St. Martin's, Mar 2004, 24.95, 304 pp.
Now turning thirty, seven years has passed since an idealistic Emil Brod joined the police force as a Comrade Homicide Detective, but now by 1956 he is like his peers, grim and ever looking over his shoulders at the KGB representative. Emil has learned survival means trust no one and gingerly investigate whenever the Party is involved.
Meanwhile Police Officer Ferenc Kolyeszar prefers to be a novelist, but in this small Communist nation getting anything published is controlled by the Party. Though Ferenc has talent his résumé shows one paperback. Now he writes a book about the depressing world of artists representing Everyman behind the Iron Curtain. Any creativity typically leads to work camps that even in the post Stalin era remains dehumanizing and deadly. Besides the censorship that haunts Ferenc, he suffers remorse over a recent assignment involving college students. As he investigates the murder of a party bureaucrat, KGB agent Kaminski watches Ferenc looking forward to destroying the wannabe author.
This 1950s Communist police procedural is a terrific tale that provides the audience with insight into life inside a Soviet satellite country just after the death of Stalin. The strong story line surprisingly relegates the hero of the first novel (BRIDGE OF SIGHS) to a cynical secondary role. This allows comparison to Ferenc, a tragic Shakespearean character who knows that his latest case will personally cost him dearly; yet he cannot adapt to the party line especially after he carried out a recent assignment to bash the heads of protesting college students. This is a great Eastern European Communist historical police procedural that should provide Owen Steinhauer a strong fan base.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner