'A smart plot, an engagingly acerbic lead, and a nuanced portrayal of 2009 Poland lift Miloszewski’s second mystery featuring Warsaw prosecutor Teodor Szacki (after 2010’s Entanglement). After breaking up a human-trafficking ring in the provincial city of Sandomierz, Szacki decides to move there to begin his life anew, though he’s soon disillusioned ( "he had thrown the life he had spent years building down the toilet in exchange for a sodding pipe dream, and now he was left with nothing "). When someone repeatedly slashes the throat of Elzbieta Budnik and leaves her nude corpse on display in a ravine below Sandomierz’s medieval walls, Szacki welcomes the chance to look into a serious crime. Discovery that the murder weapon was a knife used by Jewish butchers leads to speculation that Budnik was killed as a ritual sacrifice. More deaths follow, building up to an ingenious fair-play solution that matches the clever depiction of the protagonist’s midlife crisis.’ - Publishers Weekly
'Prosecutor Teodor Szacki was first encountered in ENTANGLEMENT, set in Warsaw. In A GRAIN OF TRUTH he has left his wife and moved to Sandomierz, a picturesque but provincial town. Far from his normal milieu, he feels like a fish out of water. A popular teacher is killed; the means of death and a weapon found nearby suggest a Jewish ritual killing. Szacki's investigations reveal that the town has a long history of Catholic/Jewish conflict, continuing up to and after WWII. However, he is unable to make much progress with the case and another death quickly follows. Szacki needs to overcome his lack of local knowledge and find the keys to the crime despite the distraction of the hysterical publicity surrounding the case.
Teodor Szacki makes an interesting detective, mercurial and quick-thinking, with little tolerance for stupidity or prejudice. His white hair, sharp dressing and lack of respect for convention make him stand out in the sleepy backwater of Sandomierz and highlight the differences in thinking which complicate resolution of the case. His reputation has proceeded him and his superstar status does nothing to undermine his pulling power and we come to appreciate his professional dedication and hear enough of his regrets for what he has left in Warsaw to make him a sympathetic protagonist.
The interaction of Jews and Catholics in Poland is explored at length as Szacki delves into possible motivations for the crimes he is investigating, and provides plenty of interest. The active participation of the Catholic Church in the most appalling actions against Jews shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but post-war prejudice, bolstered by the substantial representation of Jews in the despised Communist state apparatus, is something outsiders may not be aware of. Just why antagonism between the two communities should be so bad in Poland is a matter for historians; but, as with such hatreds elsewhere, once they grow to be so deep-seated, they become very hard to eradicate.
Despite the dark subject-matter referred to above, Zygmunt Miloszewski has a light touch and A GRAIN OF TRUTH is balanced with plenty of humour. Each day of the investigation is introduced with a short bulletin of world-wide and Polish events, an idiosyncratic selection highlighting some of the more ironic items in the news, especially when seen in juxtaposition. Miloszewski also has plenty to say about the weather, in particular how disappointing spring in Poland can be.
After reading a number of books originally written in a foreign language, the dilemma of the translator becomes clear: how to render the words to accurately catch the sense of the original, but at the same time retaining some of the linguistic features which distinguish the language in question, and help to establish an authentic atmosphere. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who translated A GRAIN OF TRUTH, does well in this respect and Miloszewski is likely to become popular overseas as well as at home.’
‘To know a place, look at its detectives: San Francisco's lust and greed have hardened Sam Spade into a diamond, and the soggy streets of late-Empire London have made a drug-addled maniac of Sherlock Holmes. Kurt Wallander is as gloomy and given to existential terrors as the Swedish countryside he so ably polices, and Paris, c'est Commissaire Maigret. Now Warsaw, too, has its hard-boiled emblem in prosecutor Teo Szacki, a human seismograph ably recording all of Poland's historical tremors. The crimes he must solve, then, are shrouded not only in mystery but in eight decades of tension and trauma, from anti-Semitism to post-communist malaise. Szacki's creator, Zygmunt Miłoszewski, a former editor of the Polish edition of Newsweek, is feeling the burden of history as acutely as his world-weary character. Even though he insists that a thriller's sole purpose is to make the reader eager to turn the page, he chose to submerge his hero not only in Poland's seamy underside but in its painful past as well. His first novel in the Szacki series, Entanglement, published in Poland in 2007 and translated into English in 2010, is rich with plotlines involving the largely unprosecuted and immensely powerful cadre of former Communist operatives, the ruthless men who transitioned neatly from secret policemen to secretive financial tycoons. When the book came out, Miłoszewski found himself in the strange position of being praised by some unlikely admirers. “For a while,” he said, “I was the favorite writer of the nationalist, anti-Semitic right-wing,” for whom the fact that so many of the Communists' crimes have gone unpunished serves as proof of a conspiracy between the ancien régime and its eventual inheritors, Lech Wałęsa and his fellow members of Solidarity. As absurd as the claim may be, it is rooted enough in the contemporary Polish psyche as political shorthand; few on the left, Miłoszewski said, including many of his fellow journalists, cared to review any novel, even a detective story, that explored the murky world of the Communists in any way. This pleased Miłoszewski. His mission, he said over pierogis in a popular Warsaw café earlier this week, was “to punch the happy, smiling Polish face, so proud of its history. That's what artists should do. If you want to be proud of your nation's history, you must be ashamed of what was wrong.” With Entanglement selling briskly, Miłoszewski went in search of something else that was wrong with Polish history. Naturally, he thought of the Jews. Thus was born A Grain of Truth, published in 2011 and an instant best-seller. As the novel begins, Szacki, having destroyed his marriage and sabotaged his career, moves to a small town in the south of Poland in search of an idyllic life of quiet streets and green fields and little malice. The corpses, however, soon start popping up. To make things worse, the murders all seem to be recreations of ancient blood libels: Some turn up next to kosher butchery knives, others in nail-spiked barrels, the alleged method by which Jews had drained the blood of innocent Christian children. The local church also happens to feature an 18th-century painting portraying murderous Jews and martyred toddlers, which makes everyone in town suspect that the killings are either the work of Jews taking vengeance for the persecution and pogroms they've experienced from their Polish neighbors or of anti-Semites trying to frame the Jews in a particularly gruesome way. Szacki, however, knows better. He suspects that the murders' ritual nature is just a smoke screen. To get to the truth, he must wrestle his way through history. That, said Miłoszewski, is not only the detective's work, but also the writer's. Before the war, he said, “the truth was in everyday life. There were prejudices, there were even hatreds, but Jews and non-Jews were neighbors. Then, suddenly, daily life disappeared, and all that was left were the prejudices. And now, the truth is that people don't have enough knowledge.” In addition to being a first-rate mystery with a complicated protagonist and enough mood to paint even the brightest day noir, A Grain of Truth is also, at least in part, interested in knowledge. Among its characters is a young and charismatic rabbi, and the plot is propelled forward not only by masterful storytelling but also by a sense of what is gone and will never be back. “There's a huge difference between being sorry for the victims of the Holocaust and the feeling of loss to the city, to the fabric of being,” Miłoszewski said. “There used to be a Jewish district here, Jewish restaurants, Jewish mobsters, Jewish stores. They're all gone. All this daily life is gone.” And there's no better champion of all that was lost than Szacki. He made his man a prosecutor, Miłoszewski said, in order to plant him firmly in very rigid ideological ground. “A prosecutor is more complex than just a cop,” Miłoszewski said. “A cop is always gray—on the good side, but must deal with the bad guys, so the line is very thin. A prosecutor is closer to the judge than he is to the police. All he wants is justice. He doesn't do deals.” Such moral absolutism is Szacki's greatest tool; unfazed by the sound and the fury around him, he doggedly does his work and ignores all distractions, from office politics to an unkind press corps. When a reporter asks him if he is an anti-Semite, for example, in an attempt to get him to lose his cool, Szacki hisses back, “If you're a Jew, then yes.” Sam Spade couldn't have said it better himself.' - Tablet
'A Polish prosecutor’s ill-advised decision to move from Warsaw to the provinces cuts down on his case load but not on the angst his first big opportunity brings Barbara "Basia" Sobieraj thinks the case never should have gone to Teodor Szacki in the first place. After all, he’s an outsider, a very recent arrival to Sandomierz from Warsaw (Entanglement, 2010), whereas she’s known the Budniks for years. When Elzbieta Budnik’s naked corpse is found outside the old synagogue that now serves as the town archive, her throat savagely slashed, Basia feels a much closer attachment to both the victim and her husband, Grzegorz, than Szacki ever could. But that’s just the problem, her maternal boss Maria Miszczyk tells her: The mystery of who killed an English teacher of whom no one speaks a word of ill needs an objective eye. For better or worse, though, Szacki is hardly objective. Having rashly decided to abandon his wife and daughter in Warsaw so that he can take up a new life in this charming backwater, he’s thrown himself into a series a meaningless affairs and a depression so deep that he welcomes the Budnik murder. Slowly but inevitably, complications darken his view. Wealthy businessman Jerzy Szyller disappears shortly after he confesses his involvement with the victim. Grzegorz Budnik, the only plausible suspect, instead follows his wife in death. And everything about both murders, carried out in a way ghoulishly appropriate for the Jewish slaughter of kosher animals, seems to link them to evils with much deeper roots-evils that pose special obstacles to an outsider like Szacki.Leisurely, ruminative and tangled-more successful as a portrait of the complex, self-hating, yet oddly likable detective than of the crimes he’s called to investigate.’ - Kirkus Reviews
'Prosecutor Teodor Szacki’s brilliant analytical mind hides behind a chaotic personal life. His wife has thrown him out of the family home in Warsaw, but hankering after her doesn’t inhibit him from a variety of ill-judged sexual encounters in his new home, the medieval town of Sandomierz in southern Poland. Nothing much happens in this timeless provincial setting, apart from tourism, until the body of a young woman enters the frame. She appears to have been killed by someone trained in shekhita, the Jewish method of slaughtering animals for meat. This incident breaks the calm surface of life in Sandomierz, and we discover undercurrents of jealousy, antagonism and antisemitism lurking below. They reach back in time, to the war years, when the city’s Jews disappeared at the hands of the Nazis, and before that, to the longstanding community of Jewish people whose lives were intertwined with those of their non-Jewish neighbours. Antisemitism has not lain dormant in the decades that have passed since then, not least thanks to the Church. The Cathedral is a landmark, both in the town and in the trajectory of the plot, and is the backdrop to intriguing clues, which may or may not lead you to the murderer. These include a painting depicting the blood libel, the mischievous myth that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood for Passover matzos. Corruption, bad faith and weakness characterise the role of the Catholic church, as well as many of the characters, but they all have their internal contradictions, too.
A streetwise city guy, with a sharp wit and a jaded view of his fellow citizens, Szacki struggles to get used to the slow pace of life in Sandomierz, with its undertow of historic antagonism and contemporary sharp practice. This detective story is predicated on the past but placed squarely in the present reality of a country which has lost not just a whole people but their culture and significance in Polish life. Electronic media are part of the story, and we are given intermittent reminders, through an unexpected lens, of what is going on in the world beyond Sandomierz, while Szacki struggles to get to the bottom of what looks like a murder with medieval motives. A Grain of Truth has all the elements of a classic detective novel, with its hardboiled but chaotic detective casting a cynical outsider’s eye over a sleepy provincial setting. Like a cross between Raymond Chandler and Midsomer Murders, it is skilfully written and constructed, and brilliantly translated, giving a multidimensional perspective on Poland, its people, and, particularly its downbeat transgressive humour. Spooky experiences and arcane information are woven together with the mundane preoccupations of a newly and unwillingly single, emotionally needy middle aged man. The book has such a powerful sense of place that, even after you’ve lost track of the twists and turns of the plot, you are left with the feeling that you could find your way around this godforsaken town, with its past of Nazi occupation and Communist austerity, and its present of burgeoning corruption. Unlike Warsaw, where his colleagues were full of life and laughs, Prosecutor Teodor Szacki has had the misfortune to pitch up in Sandomierz where he has to work with Inspector Wilzcur, who is "rather far from being likeable. He had arranged to meet him in the 'Town Hall’ bar, a dreadful dive in the basement of a tenement house on the market square that stank of the cigarette smoke which had infused every bit of the décor for decades, and was full of weird customers and weird waiters. Szacki was sure that behind the scenes there were weird cooks weirdly preparing weird meat, so he limited himself to coffee and cheesecake. The cheesecake smelt of an old sofa which everyone sits on but no one fancies cleaning… "
Knowing that the author is not Jewish, I read this book nervously, expecting to trip over mistakes or at least misinterpretations of Jewish customs, traditions and experience. But Zygmunt Miłoszewski is sure footed and nuanced in his depiction of Jewish culture and practices, and in his understanding of Jewish history and the legacy of antisemitism in Poland. He might have included more references to Jews in and from the diaspora today, rather than using Jews who have come from Israel as his detective’s consultants on Jewish matters. At the same time, he doesn’t shy away from challenging misuse of the Holocaust by both Poles and Israelis. Discussing antisemitism, Rabbi Zygmunt Maciejewski describes coming with a tour group to Poland to visit the concentration camps. "It’s like this - when a tour group comes here from Israel to visit the camp at Majdanek, they take their own bodyguards with them to the disco. And before they get on the coach to Warsaw airport, they have to listen to a talk on how to behave in case of an anti-Semitic attack. I was brought up in Israel, and I went on one of those tours, which mainly consisted of shocking us with the Shoah. … But not just that. It consisted to the same extent of bullshitting about omnipresent anti-Semitism, stirring up suspicions, xenophobia and the desire to retaliate. In fact, when it comes to building an identity on dead bodies, we’ve done better than the Poles.
As well as being an exciting, accessible and engaging read, this book takes you to new places and introduces you to new ideas. I’d never heard of Sandomierz before I read it. When I finished the book I did some research and discovered that most of the information about the town - including the blood libel painting - is true. It sounds well worth a visit.’ - Jewish Socialist
‘Sandomierz is one of the most beautiful cities in Poland, a far cry from Warsaw, famed as the ugliest capital in Europe. For Prosecutor Teodor Szacki, however, it's a town in the sticks and he's not happy there. Transferred from Warsaw to the Sandomierz Prosecutor's Office, newly divorced and bored to tears, all Szacki hopes for is a juicy crime to break the monotony. A naked female corpse dumped outside the town's old synagogue with a kosher butcher's knife nearby and completely drained of blood is perfect. Mi ł oszewski's Szacki is a Polish Sherlock Holmes with Slavic melancholia overlaying a mind addicted to analytic facts and logic. Tall, thin, prematurely grey, Szacki works hard at displaying no emotion and only being interested in what happened and why. Unfortunately, he has a sharp temper, a biting tongue and no patience for fools. A nationally famous crime solver who is not afraid to let everyone around him know how good he is, Szacki is unlikeable but totally fascinating. A GRAIN OF TRUTH is Mi ł oszewski's second Szacki novel and moves the series to rural Poland and its bloody past. The Holocaust destroyed most of the area's Jewish population but anti-Semitism and right wing nationalism are alive and well in the provinces. The ritualized nature of this crime brings back talk of the totally false story of medieval Jewish blood slaughter, graphically depicted in a large painting on the wall of the local cathedral. In the painting, Jews select likely Polish children, lure them away from their parents and drain the children's blood for vile rituals. The dismembered child corpses are then thrown to the dogs. The painting is covered with a curtain because of its offensive theme, but the whole town knows what's behind and a picture of Pope John Paul II tacked to the front of the curtain changes nothing underneath. The idea that this might be a Jewish hate crime brings the press, the skin heads and crazies out in force. When a second corpse appears, also killed and drained of blood according to the painting's ritual, Szacki knows he must solve the crime quickly to prevent a riot or worse. Mi ł oszewski gives a gritty picture of life in Poland, beautiful but scarred by the past and unable to forget or forgive. Szacki is the perfect man for this time and place and Mi ł oszewski makes him an unforgettable character, flawed but still the best available. Logic versus raw emotion and racial hatred makes for a memorable conflict and a great mystery. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.' - ILOVEAMYSTERY
'After Scandinavian noir and Finnish noir, we now have Polish noir. Or, should I say, Polish-Jewish noir.
For Zygmunt Miloszewski’s terrific A Grain of Truth (Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99) examines the fraught relations between Poles and Jews, 70 years after the country’s Jews were destroyed by the Holocaust.James Callaghan’s telling phrase, "a lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on " would certainly apply to the goings-on in the Polish backwater town of Sandomierz. Teodor Szacki, the gloriously miserable prosecutor hero, is faced with a series of murders which look at first sight as though they are the work of frustrated Jews - despite the fact that there are no longer any Jews in the town.Szacki is obliged to demolish a series of antisemitic canards, each more preposterous than the next, finally taking advice from a young rabbi in Lublin.Miloszewski has a high time matching his Eeyore-ish anti-hero to several rapacious women in Sandomierz. In small towns, he tells us, everyone knows everyone else’s business. But, outside the comedy, the writer is at the top of his game, cleverly weaving in a Hebrew clue - containing a deliberate error - near the end of the thriller.The "Grain of Truth " refers to the many myths that surround the place of Jews in present-day Polish culture. Miloszewski’s book is a small gem.’ - Jewish Chronicle
“A Grain of Truth” by Zygmunt Miloszewski (translated from the Polish) is an unusual crime story starring a Warsaw prosecutor, Teodor Szacki, who has been exiled to the historic city of Sandomierz where he confronts an investigation into a brutal murder where the victim's body has been drained of blood. Each chapter has an introduction in typewriter type, as though presenting a historical record, detailing events of the day starting with its Jewish relevance. The victim is discovered by a private genealogical researcher in the State Archive, located in an 18th century synagogue, who describes the difficulty in his business of coming across Jewish ancestors. This theme carries through when the legend of Jewish ritual murder leads to anti-Semitic attacks in the community. During the investigation, Szacki confronts the murder just after the war of a Jewish doctor in the town, and he has to handle a group of young neo-Nazis looking for trouble. The writing is complex and dense, filled with Szacki's thoughts and worries as he recalls a veteran officer's warning that everybody tells lies – and he suddenly arrives at the convoluted solution.' - Moment Magazine
'A victim is found brutally murdered, her body drained of blood. The killing resembles a Jewish ritual slaughter, prompting a wave of anti-Semitic paranoia in the closely knit community of Sandomierz, Poland. State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki has recently relocated from Warsaw to Sandomierz to start a new life. Instead, he finds himself investigating a strange murder case in unfamiliar and unfriendly surroundings. Every legend contains a grain of truth. Or so people wish to believe. Even a legend as fantastic as the Loch Ness Monster originated in some sort of fact and not merely in what a lonely Highlander swears he saw once upon a foggy twilight. Right?
So if the good people of Sandomierz, Poland, have heard legends of evil deeds perpetrated by its Jewish community-no matter how horrifying, no matter how inhuman-they choose to believe, because there must be a grain of truth hidden somewhere within. Right?
No, it’s not right!
This sort of group-think psychology is the basis of the second Prosecutor Teodor Szacki mystery by Polish author Zygmunt Miłoszewski, a former journalist whose mystery novels have become best sellers in Poland. (His first Szacki novel, Entanglement, was adapted for a feature film in 2011.) Psychology fascinates Miłoszewski, and he excels at dissecting the human mind’s workings. Even the most sensible people do nonsensical things: logical people behave illogically, sympathetic people treat others cruelly, successful people are compelled to sabotage their own success. No one is a better example of the last than Szacki himself. He’s a protagonist with troubles, most of which are down to his own foibles and indiscretions. He’s a philanderer, although even he couldn’t tell you why. And though he finds women irresistible, he tires of them quickly and doesn’t understand them at all.
If you’ve read Entanglement-and I highly recommend that you do because it’s very good and because it puts A Grain of Truth in context-you know that Szacki was a rising star in Warsaw, with a beautiful wife and a young daughter. And now:
To put it unsubtly, he had thrown the life he had spent years building down the toilet in exchange for a sodding pipe dream, and now he was left with nothing, which felt so terrible that it even gave him a sense of exoneration for his own bad behavior. Absolutely and exactly nothing.
Instead of being the star of the capital city’s prosecution service, he was an outsider who prompted mistrust in a provincial city, which was in fact dead after six p.m.-but unfortunately not because the citizens had been murdering each other.
In real life, Sandomierz is a beautiful, historic city, where folks from big-city Warsaw go for long weekends to bask in its relaxed charm and admire its preserved Old Town. It’s also a favorite destination for school trips because of the network of underground tunnels dating back to the 13th century that spreads out beneath the city. And people throughout Poland recognize it as the setting for Father Mateusz (Ojciec Mateusz), a heartwarming hit TV series about a crime-solving priest. (All of these things come up in this book.).To Szacki, however, Sandomierz is a tiresome small town. His new colleague, Barbara "Basia " Sobieraj, could be the liaison he needs to make inroads if he had any interest in connecting with the community. He doesn’t. Then the murders start-terrible, premeditated, choreographed murders that demand his attention and foil his instincts-and he must learn to navigate the interconnected paths of local society and local history, particularly the bizarre and troubling local "wisdom " that has fueled anti-Semitic sentiments for centuries.
[Basia Sobieraj] said, "Sandomierz is at the centre of the so-called legend of blood, and the history of Polish-Jewish relations alternates between either nice, friendly cohabitation or recriminations and bloody pogroms-the last anti-Semitic killings happened here just after the war. If someone, God forbid, uses the term 'ritual murder,’ it’ll be the end. "
"Ritual murder is a fairy tale, " replied Szacki calmly… "Let’s not get hysterical. "
But people do get hysterical, and it’s up to Teodor Szacki, the hotshot prosecutor from Warsaw, to sort it all out in this beautiful city with a less-than-beautiful past. There’s a lot here that you’ll find unfamiliar, but the psychology and complexity of human behavior is universal, and Miłoszewski uses it to advantage in this intriguing and original story.’ - Criminalelement
'State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki is attempting to recover from a broken marriage and has left Warsaw. He is prone to cheerless thoughts especially if deprived of his soothing iced tea. It is the very start of spring in the legendary and magical Polish town of Sandomierz on the banks of the Vistula. Szacki, who does not like to be bored, is soon preoccupied in solving a ghastly murder that has been staged in the style of a Jewish ritual and this particular city is notorious for ancient, tense and deep rooted relations between Catholics and Jews. To solve this crime Szacki will need to delve into the murky history of occupation; Nazis, Communists and patriots. He will also need to face his own self-doubts. He must search for 'A Grain of Truth' under the critical gaze of local citizens enflamed by press paranoia.Szacki feels rootless and alienated investigating the small crimes associated with a nearby bazaar run by some dubious Russians. His confusion is unrelieved by his feckless involvement with his demanding young mistress. Then the naked body, throat slashed appears close to an old Synagogue, in a ravine beneath the medieval walls of Sandomierz. The plaster white body is still recognizable to Prosecutor Szacki's colleagues.
The once attractive victim is well known for her exemplary good works and was the wife of a prominent and ambitious local politician. Szacki is faced with a perplexing crime and the discovery of a terrifying instrument of ritual slaughter unsettles him still further. What has driven the murder to create such a fanciful crime? The situation is not eased by the difficult relationship that Teodor Szacki has with his female boss. If you can keep pace with some of the unusual Polish names, Miloszewski provides an intriguing wealth of characters including his suspicious older side-kick Wilczur with his disconcerting habit of tearing filters off cigarettes and his buxom fellow Prosecutor Basia Sobieraj with whom he develops a less than professional relationship. Then there is the eccentric Rabbi Zygmunt Maciejewski who quotes a Jewish saying; half the truth is a whole lie. These impressive characters move along an engaging and varied story. The narrative provides an instructive update on many aspects of modern Polish society including devout Catholicism, local politics, the Polish legal system, the painful deprivations of the recent past and historical hatreds that underlie contemporary attitudes. Miloszewski, recently a journalist and editor for the Polish edition of Newsweek has been nominated for this novel for several international prizes and two of his recent books turned into successful films. This is, in fact, the second case for Szacki.
It is worth comparing State Prosecutor Szacki with Andrea Camilleri's fictional detective Inspector Montalbano whose Sicilian investigations in Vigàta, an imaginary Sicilian town have recently graced our television screens. Both seem fractious characters with a taste for fine food and attractive women, and both are dealing with endemic corruption in some form which includes the press and media. However, Zygmunt Miloszewski is the more developed, varied and literary novelist. This is conveyed in the quality of the writing, especially in the use of A Grain of Truth as a leitmotiv where it variously represents, grappling with the dark history of the Polish past, Szacki's attempts to be honest with himself and in the end the truth even in legend, as Miloszewski puts it about the brave Colonel Skopenko about whom he writes, 'He couldn't imagine anyone seeing the city from this perspective and then giving an order for artillery fire. It was beautiful, the most beautiful city in Poland, it was Italian, European, not Polish, it was a place you wanted to fall in love with at first sight, settle in and never leave.' Truth like faith, the size of a mustard seed, enables Szacki to penetrate and uproot the criminal.
There are several other interesting aspects to Zygmunt Miloszewski's writing but these are best sampled and evaluated by reading this challenging novel for yourself. I highly recommend it and look forward to the translation of his next novel.’ - The Book Bag
'After moving from the capital to a small town in south-eastern Poland, Prosecutor Teodor Szacki finds himself investigating a murder that looks like a monstrous pastiche of traditional Jewish animal slaughter. Beneath the town's picturesque surface there are concealed threads that bind the inhabitants together, and concealed currents that flow through the populace. Behind a curtain in the cathedral there is an old painting that depicts Jews slaughtering Christian babies for their blood.
Prosecutor Szacki is fictional, as are the murders. The painting is real. Its presence is noted in a passing reference on the Sandomierz town website to "Jewish ritual murder "- though the phrase does not appear in the English and German versions of the page. (It's there in the Italian one, perhaps betraying an assumption that Catholics in general will acquiesce in the blood libel.) This book is both a crime novel and a grim reflection on the agony, the shame and the rage that has been provoked by the controversies of recent years about how Poles treated their Jewish neighbours, and how they remember them. More broadly, it reflects upon imbalances that are found in many countries between modern metropolitan society and the resentfully defended traditions of the provinces.
Miłoszewski depicts how the locals react as the demons of the past are conjured up. A priest sees the painting as a protest against extremism - but also thinks that it says something about abortion, and possible Jewish involvement in what to the Catholic Church is an abominable crime. A cathedral guide tries to persuade a tour party that a Jewish cult might have committed ritual murder, which he insists was a historical fact. These remarks are lightly adapted from material gathered by Warsaw University anthropologists who interviewed Sandomierz residents in 2005. The degree of reason and sympathy in the novelized vox pops is limited, but it's considerably higher than in the researchers' compiled transcripts. Their document is more disturbing than Miłoszewski's drama.
Szacki regards the locals' noxious imaginings with a metropolitan eye trained in the rational evaluation of evidence. Yet he finds himself being drawn into their community - even coming to see more to women than the crude physical evaluations with which the reader is relentlessly taxed. And that's the way to go. The more that the city and the provinces subvert the distinction between 'us' and 'them', instead of turning their backs on each other with a sneer and a shudder, the less people in the tracts far from the centre will cling to their libelous myths about others.’ - Independent
‘Polish Prosecutor Teodor Szacki's life is a mess and it's his own fault. He asked for the transfer to the boring small town of Sandomierz, Poland, after successfully solving a case in Warsaw. The only reason he's alone in a city where everyone seems to have known each other forever is because he ruined his marriage having an affair. However, life becomes more exciting when murder strikes in Zygmunt Miloszewski's "A Grain of Truth" (Bitter Lemon Press), the second book in a series, but the first I've read. This particular murder may have repercussions beyond Sandomierz. The murder weapon is a knife, the type used by Jewish ritual slaughters, and the victim's blood has been drained, making the crime resemble blood libels of former years. Antisemitic accusations quickly appear: are the Jews seeking revenge for what happened in the town during World War II? While the novel was tough going at times – Miloszewski's writing is dense and the Polish names are difficult to remember – the solution to the murder was one of the best I've read in years. Szacki is an appealing character: cranky, stuck-up and slightly obnoxious, but also extremely intelligent. That's the appeal of some of the best detectives: they're fun to read about, but not someone you'd want to know personally. Of additional interest for Jewish readers is the novel's exploration of Polish antisemitism and the place of Jews in the country's past and present. It's not pleasant, but Miloszewski doesn't flinch, even when showing the prejudices of his hero.' - Reporter Group
'Polish mystery writer Miloszewski’s first novel, Entanglement (2010), earned the High Calibre Award and was made into a movie. This second in the series finds state prosecutor Teodor Szacki tackling anti-Semitism in Poland. Szacki has left Warsaw after ending his marriage and settled in Sandomierz, a picturesque town with beautiful churches and museums. As an outsider, he is not welcomed by the residents. When a woman is found dead with her body completely drained of blood, Szacki investigates, despite the lack of cooperation from the local police. The killing looks like ritual slaughter, and it triggers anti-Semitic paranoia in the close-knit community. Szacki must face the painful history of Polish-Jewish relations and the aftermath of an event that occurred 60 years earlier. Miloszewski’s compelling mystery offers a revealing glimpse of life in modern Poland, a country still dealing with its complicated past.’ - Booklist
‘Thanks to Stieg Larsson, crime now pays in Europe and the new post-communist era in Poland has produced some stunningly original writing and Polish noir. A Grain of Truth is part of a trilogy of topical crime novels by Miloszewski, a brilliant young writer and journalist. It features public prosecutor Teodor Szacki, a middle-aged, world-weary, witty, short-fused detective. In this one volume you get reflections on modern Poland, anti-Semitism, the history of the Jews in Poland, religion, technology, the media, politics, AND crime! What more do you want?' - We Love This Book
‘With the current vogue for Scandinavian crime fiction, a trip across the Baltic might provide a welcome change of scenery. This is the second novel by Miloszewski featuring Tadeus Szacki, a star Polish state prosecutor. The historic city of Sandomierz and the uncomfortable legacy of anti-semitism in Poland provide the settings for this tale and give some interesting insights into Polish life and history. Prosecutors may read with envy how their Polish counterparts go about their work, although some literary licence must be allowed for. Although not terribly original in construction or characterisation, it has all the right ingredients and is well balanced. Apart from a couple of Polish idioms which sound a bit odd, the translation is well done. This is a good read and the pages kept turning until all was revealed. Certainly worth a go.' - Law Society Scotland Journal
'In 2009 former Warsaw Prosecutor Teodor Szacki knows his unfulfilling affair with reporter Monica Grzelka destroyed his marriage, and left him alone without family in exile in Sandomierz, a provincial city that shuts down at 6 PM. However, he became a local celebrity when he solved the case of a murdered Ukrainian prostitute that led to him breaking up a human-trafficking ring. An unknown psychopath viciously slashes numerous times the throat of Elzbieta Budnik before dumping her nude body for all passerby to see in a ravine below the city's medieval walls. Szacki leads the homicide investigation in which the exorbitant number of cuts and draining of the blood imply a crime of ritual passion. Szacki learns a knife used by Jewish butchers is the murder weapon, which has the prosecutor wondering if a religious sacrifice occurred. Additional similar murders occur including Budnik's spouse and Szacki feels pressure to end the serial ritual killings.The second Polish State Prosecutor Szacki case (see Entanglement) is a great murder mystery that hooks the audience from start to finish as the whodunit takes center stage but cleverly enhanced by a close look at Szacko's middle age despair. The terrific storyline contains ties to anti-Semitism dating back to WWII, but leaves the reader pondering until the super climax whether it is a Jew enacting vengeance or a non-Jew using a convenient scapegoat.’ - MBR Bookwatch
'My mother is Polish, which meant that during the holidays when I was a kid, we broke out the polka records and kielbasa for special occasion meals from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Certainly, nostalgia for those belch-y festivities of yore led me to A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski, a Polish mystery novel that unexpectedly turns out to be as hard-boiled as the skin around a circlet of that ubiquitous holiday kielbasa. It's also just about as tough to digest, given that it delves deep into the ways that modern Polish society handles - and avoids - the historical memory of anti-Semitism during and immediately after World War II. Like many a fine crime writer before him, Miloszewski worked as a journalist; he also served as a former editor of the Polish edition of Newsweek. His reportorial eye imbues Miloszewski's depictions of daily life in provincial Poland with fine detail, as well as his own distinctive bitter humor. The likably washed-up hero of A Grain of Truth is named Teodor Szacki; in the first novel of this series, called Entanglement (which has also been translated into English and is available through Bitter Lemon Press), Szacki, a state prosecutor in Warsaw, allowed a stupid affair to destroy his marriage and family. In A Grain of Truth, Szacki has fled that emotional wreckage and moved to the town of Sandomierz, a picturesque burgh of fine old manor houses and churches.
A few months into his new life, Szacki has realized that: "He had thrown the life he had spent years building down the toilet ... and now he was left with nothing, which felt so terrible that it even gave him a sense of exoneration for his own bad behavior."Instead of being the star of the capital city's prosecution service, he was an outsider who prompted mistrust in a provincial city, which was in fact dead after 6 p.m."
Szacki also learns something else about his new hometown: Sandomierz turns out to have been a red-hot locale, historically speaking, for anti-Semitic atrocities. In fact, the town's soaring cathedral is famous for a painting that depicts Jews slaughtering Christian children. These days, that painting has been tastefully covered up by a red cloth upon which a portrait of Pope John Paul II has been affixed.
The case that draws Szacki in is just as baroque and gory as those cathedral paintings, involving a series of what look to be ritual murders, in which the victims die in ways inspired by that infamous painting. The intricate mystery narrative here owes debts to Poe's The Purloined Letter and even Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles, but it's really Miloszewski's nuanced take on contemporary Poland - geographically and sociologically - that makes A Grain of Truth such a standout. Gray winter in Miloszewski's Poland seems to last even longer than winter in Stieg Larsson's Sweden: It's a running black humor joke in this story that Szacki is always dashing out of his apartment underdressed into the Polish spring drizzle and wind. And the atmosphere is just as oppressive, psychologically. Because of the apparent nature of the murders, Szacki must sprint all over town interrogating suspects, among them modern so-called Polish "patriots," extremists who bombard him with their anti-Semitic rants. He's also forced to face his own discomfort with the topic of Polish-Jewish relations, especially when an anti-Semitic slip of the tongue during a news conference makes him, to his own horror, "the hero of small-town Poland."
A Grain of Truth, like every great crime novel, digs up more unsettling questions than it does answers; it also demonstrates the seemingly endless possibilities of the form itself to serve as smart social criticism. Who knows? Maybe 2013 will be the year that Poland snatches the crime fiction crown away from the Swedes and Norwegians. If so, I've got a kielbasa in the freezer, ready to be fired up’. - NPR
'The great bluesman, BB King, described his music as 'the same but different’. He understood that variation was important but that he needed to retain the strengths of the blues to please his fans. 'A Grain of Truth’ is a satisfying thriller that relies on familiar pleasures but it also maintains our interest through an intelligent analysis of Polish society and its values. The prosecutor, Szacki, is middle aged, recently divorced and anxious. Imagine lonely Wallander living and working in a beautiful Polish town rather than Ystad. Indeed, the town, Sandomierz, has its own TV detective, similar to Ystad. If Wallander is merely miserable, Szacki is looking for love, preferably with his ex-wife. Instead, despite his intentions, the women are soon no more than bodies to him. He becomes bored and the relationships invariably falter. If this is familiar, it works. The attitude of Szacki to women is neither sexist nor enlightened and the modern noir thriller needs a hero with an unsentimental eye.
Milozswesky has created a plot that has satisfying echoes of Sherlock Holmes but he is also a serious writer who wants to probe into the anti-Semitism that haunts Poland. He looks at his neighbours and refuses to flinch. The cynicism is effective because it is rooted in an anti-romantic misanthropy. But this harsh realism is not without compassion. Szacki remembers Magiera, a naive young man who loses his temper and kills his tyrannical father. Szacki has no illusions but he still feels sorry for Magiera. We understand that innocence and guilt are complicated.
The plot and the digressions are told in a measured pace. This is a weighty novel similar to those that exist in Scandinavian crime. Fans of that genre will undoubtedly find 'A Grain of Truth’ satisfying. It takes time for evidence and suspects to emerge but this is part of the appeal. The reader is curious as to how the criminal will be revealed. Oddly, there is also a hint of Dan Brown. The book actually refers to Dan Brown and it begins with an archivist in a library. But, Milozsewski is a much more intelligent and ambitious writer than Dan Brown and the historical research is only one element in what is a complex novel.
The plot works as a rewarding puzzle but 'A Grain of Truth’ is also a thoughtful warning about persistent hate and the damage it can do to us all. It argues that the brutality of others creates a moral dilemma for the rest. Unless we understand how to respond sensibly to inevitable desires for revenge, we will wreck our lives. This idea is firmly integrated into the plot, the life of our hero, Szacki, and even the red herrings. The stubbornness of history and warped attitudes is caught brilliantly in the daily news items that begin each section of the book. These introductions always end with a weather report and we are reminded how the weather, like human nature, is complicated but uninspiringly famili’ar.' - Crime Chronicles