Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu
Translated by Marina Sofia
Firstly, yes, this novel is translated by the wonderful Marina of the blog Finding Time to Write, and is one of the lead titles from Corylus Books, which was founded last year to bring gems of current European crime fiction to English reading audiences. Secondly, I hope Marina will forgive me for only writing a shorter review here, it’s not to say that Sword wasn’t a good book, just a little difficult to write up!
It begins with a murder. Nelu the Fly, had been coining it in from onlookers doing his matchboxes trick at the market, but an old woman he’d tricked was demanding her money back and in danger of creating a scene at the end of the day. So Nelu took evasive action:
The alleyway behind the department store was shady, so he stopped there for a breather, despite the rank smell. As he was getting ready to leave, he saw a person dressed in a long, greyish-white trench-coat heading towards him. When the figure was no more than a metre of two away, he suddenly swung open the trench-coat, brandished a sword and planted it in The Fly’s throat.
More murders follow this one, all members of the Roma minority, similarly dispatched. The media latch on, and the serial killer is named the ‘Sword’. This is where this erstwhile crime novel takes a left turn and becomes something unexpected: it becomes a political thriller instead. The Romanian government is corrupt and full of factions, and the Roma are now putting the pressure on. They’re already persecuted, but now the Sword is picking them off too – what are the government going to do about it? Also the right wing National Unity Movement is agitating. The top jobs are really at risk, and all the time, the media on both sides are spinning everything.
There was an element of farce in the political shenanigans, but that was accompanied by a definite sense of threat, which made it seem both totally mad – but also strangely real! I was grateful for the cast of characters provided at the beginning of the novel, because the structure of the Romanian government with Presidential and Prime Minsterial positions was complicated, and the names and job titles weren’t always together in the text. (I loved some of the character descriptions in the list: ‘not as good as the President would have wanted’, ‘a stingy Transylvanian’.) The Romanian system is as leaky as a sieve, and one commentator says,
“Any conspiracy in Romania becomes public knowledge in less that twenty-four hours. If three people get together and have a secret, it will become public property in twelve hours.”
The challenge for those in power is always plugging those holes, which leaves little time for getting the real work of government done. Teodorescu’s dark political crime thriller gives us a troubling insight told with some black humour. Sword is quite different in its blend of crime and politics to usual thrillers, and I was entertained and gripped by it. As for the serial killer – did they catch him? I couldn’t possibly say…
I’m also definitely eager to read more European crime from Corylus Books!
Source: Review copy – Thank you! Bogdan Teodorescu, Sword, transl. Marina Sofia (Corylus, 2020) ISBN: 9781916379725, flapped paperback 296 pages.
Daughters by Lucy Fricke
Translated by Sinéad Crowe
Another new imprint! V&Q Books is a new imprint for English translations from a German indie publisher, and I was delighted to be sent a pair of their lead titles for this autumn, launched last month. If the rest are as good as the first, again, I’ll be wanting to read more.
Daughters is that supposedly rare thing – a German novel with a good streak of black humour that is, perhaps, unexpected from that nation. But I’ll knock that cliché straight on the head! I’ve read and enjoyed humorous novels by Mario Giordano, David Safier, Jutta Profijt, Ulrich Plenzdorf and probably a few more – (I’m glad to find one of those was by a woman).
Daughters is also a new take on the road trip novel. Narrated by Betty, she is persuaded by her oldest friend Martha to help with her father. Kurt, who hasn’t been much of a father to Martha is dying from cancer and has booked his place at that clinic in Switzerland to die. He needs Martha to drive him there, but she can’t do it alone, her partner Henning isn’t the right companion for the trip. Betty, a blocked author who is travelling for distraction, was in Rome, thinking about visiting her own beloved stepfather’s grave in a town to the south, but isn’t ready for that, so agrees to come back for the trip.
They set off across Germany in Kurt’s old VW Golf. They reach their overnight hotel stop, which turns out to be not as salubrious as they’d planned for Kurt’s last night. But there, Kurt gets a call, and fesses up to the girls, that he really planned to visit his first love Francesca, he’s not ready to die quite yet. The mixture of relief, anger and the realisation of Kurt’s manipulation, leads the girls to happily leave him with his old flame at Lake Maggiore and set off on their own road trip towards Betty’s stepfather’s resting place.
The two women, approaching middle-age are both products of dysfunctional families with absent fathers. Betty had loved ‘The Trombonist’ as she called her unstable mother’s third husband, the one buried at Bellegra…
A gambling-addicted Italian, a devastatingly handsome macho, he’d put me on his shoulders and carried me through the good half of my childhood. I’d loved him to distraction.
Martha will be called back to Kurt, leaving Betty to explore the mystery of her stepfather’s demise by herself, following his trail onwards to Greece. Both women will uncover secrets on this journey which need dealing with, but it’s what they need to move their own lives on. What begins as a blackly comic story does gain in seriousness as the miles pile on and Betty’s own protective armour of sarcasm and brittleness softens. Betty is a wonderfully written (and translated) main character and Martha, who is very different in temperament but equally damaged in life, complements her brilliantly. I also loved the way the title of this novel gets to the heart of the problem. Highly recommended.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Lucy Fricke, Daughters, transl. Sinéad Crowe (V&Q, Sept 2020) ISBN: 9783863912567, flapped paperback, 204 pages.
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