The best literature lifts a lid on aspects of life and society that most of us, at best, have only the vaguest knowledge off. This crime novel, Where The Devil Can’t Go by Anya Lipska is both a tautly written thriller and an education in the mindset and dynamics of the London-Polish community.
Our hero, Janusz, is a Polish construction worker who eschewed a promising academic career in Gdansk to take part in the tumultuous events that led to the fall of the Communist Jaruzelski regime in the late Eighties. However, after losing his first love, Iza, in tragic circumstances, he has a drunken one-night stand with Iza’s friend, Marta, who falls pregnant. A duty-bound wedding ensues but Janusz flees to England shortly afterwards where he has remained ever since.
A young Polish woman goes missing.
Her employer is worried and asks the priest Fr. Piotr Pietruski if he knows anyone who could help. Janusz, due to his length of domicile and knowledge of the social fabric of the Polish community, is given the task of finding her; a task he is no stranger to. In most cases, the girl is found in a state of disarray, cohabiting with the de rigueur unsuitable fellow and after tears and fretting, missing girl is now a found girl and all is well.
Except for this occasion.
At the same time, a young woman is found dead on a sandbank of the River Thames. Enter Detective Constable Kershaw, a feisty young blonde in her late twenties who can just about hold her own in the very male, socially recidivist sexist world of the Metropolitan Police. Living alone in the cold afterglow of a relationship break-up, her strength is drawn from both her male-dominated childhood and her deceased Father’s words of remembered advice that seem to come to mind at appropriate junctures.
Janusz is drawn into a dark, underground world of the porn, the sex-trade, drugs and gangsterism.
The two investigative worlds, the official and clandestine, collide and here’s where things get even darker and twisted. Janusz delves into a world where the fingers of his country’s recent political past, reach out and still shape the present-day with its ghostly reach.
This book is one of the best I have read in recent times for many reasons. Authenticity is the blood that runs throughout the veins of this book, right from the arterial highways of plot right down to the capillaries of fine detail that only a Pole or an historian would know. The Solidarity movement, the role that the troika of Church, Trade Unionism and intelligentsia played in slaying the Communist dragon and the propagandist socio-economic policy decisions of the old regime were described in great detail through the prism of the characters’ opinions and reminiscences whilst at the same time, remaining totally germane to the plot.
There is always the danger of the writer being tempted in letting his or her pen wander off into exotic territories of the tangential but Anya Lipska demonstrated both talent and literary discipline in eschewing this temptation.
The character of Janusz while satisfying the trope of heart-in-right-place-but-damaged-hero, is brought to life vividly and with credibility.
Countries are like people. A damaged history results in a damaged people and Janusz despite his best efforts, has never really escaped Poland in one piece. One never does escape the past as it is always in the background, like a personal Banquo, ever mocking us and reminding us of things we’d rather forget. He is old enough to know both the old and the new Poland. His inability to connect with the Poland of today nor ever coming to terms with the disparity between the hedonistic unspiritual contemporary England and the romantic England of the black and white films he watched as a child, result in Janusz being somewhat stateless, a man who does not belong to anywhere but his past.
Janusz is a man who is surrounded by the stink of death. His past haunts him; his fellow countrymen are a constant reminder of the past. He is even still in love with Iza, his first love. Is he a man in love with death, in love with the past? Death, I suppose, breaks the pratfall of living. The dead cannot fall from grace in the eyes of those who love us and are frozen like perfectly formed flowers in the frozen ambers of memory but memories of flowers cannot be plucked or smelt. Even his friends, heroes of the revolution, have lived long enough for their sheen to dull.
DC Natalie Kershaw’s character works just as well but for different reasons. Her father plays the role of physically deceased but immortal wisdom. The metaphysical interplay in analogous to the relationship of Star Wars’ of Obi Wan Kenobi and his protégé Luke Skywalker. Lipska manages to execute this appropriately, subtly and with a balmy sense of pathos and warmth. Kershaw breaks the rules for the good of the job and wins the begrudging respect of her colleagues and superiors who probably never took her seriously anyway.
The denouement is as dramatic as I expected it to be and is preceded by many twists. To go further into this would give the game away.
This is a wonderful novel from Anya Lipska and at the time of writing is only available from Amazon. I’m surprised it hasn’t been picked up by any publishers as this novel knocks the spots off many of the titles that grace our high-street bookstore and supermarket shelves today.
Remember the name, Anya Lipska. We should hear more from her in the future.
Check out Anya’s website for this novel
Twitter : @AnyaLipska