Thursday, April 12, 2012

He ate slowly and methodically

Four browned goose necks landed on Mock's plate. He cut this delicacy into strips and arranged them on round, crunchy slices of potato. Enclosed in a sheath of goose skin was a stuffing made from onion, liver and goose fat. Mock placed soft, braised onion rings on top of these pyramids and began a concentrated assault. He ate slowly and methodically. First he plunged his cutlery into a dish where hunks of roast pork swam in a thick sauce of flour and cream. On top of a piece of meat now speared on his fork, he balanced a mound of potato and goose. When he had devoured this complicated formation he slid a layer of fried cabbage with crackling onto his fork as if it were a shovel. The plates gradually emptied.

Isn't that revolting? The mutilated corpses are described with similar gusto.

I am so hooked on these books. The Phantoms of Breslau, by Marek Krajewski, is the third in a series of Eberhard Mock investigations. (Eberhard Mock! — what a name!)

The initial appeal to me was the unique choice of historical setting — interwar Breslau (a city I got to know as Wrocław). It's at a kind of crossroads, in time, and between cultures.

The series is also interesting because the books are in reverse chronological order — i.e., this third book is set in 1919, years before the events recounted in the preceding books take place (set in 1927 and 1933). So if you read these in order of issue, as I have, you have a picture of what becomes of the man, and with each book you learn a little bit more of how he came to be that way, with some mystery remaining as to the intervening years. Of course, this gimmick can't be sustained forever — just a couple more books and little Ebi will be in diapers. But at this point I want to revisit the previous novels to see how he came to be married, and how his father is remembered.

I have to admit, I have trouble keeping all the characters straight. There's just so many of them! Most of them are minor, so I just keep on, knowing it's probably not that important, but now and then I realize that when I confuse some of the officers names I'm missing some subtlety of departmental politics.

The cases themselves deal with esoteric matters verging on occult. They strain credibility at times, but the richness of the atmosphere is fair recompense.

The killings in Phantoms are a personal message to Mock, advising him to admit his mistake or others will die. Mock spends a month on the case, trying to determine what that mistake might've been. In fact, the book starts at the end of that month, with Mock unable — refusing — to sleep. It's a helluva month.

Of the series so far, I think Phantoms is the tightest — it doesn't sprawl too far outside of its own story. Certainly it can be read as a standalone.


If you like your cops hardboiled, your prostitutes disease-ridden, and your meals puddled in fatty sauces, you might try this original series on for size.

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