Detective Story by Imre Kertesz

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Detective Story by Irmre Kertesz

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A chilling novella from the Nobel Laureate hears the confession of a police 'interrogator' after his regime has fallen. Perfectly written, it could perhaps have benefited from being expanded into a larger work.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099523390

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Antonio Martens is a monster. He was a police interrogator but the former regime has been overthrown and, in the way of such matters, he's now in prison awaiting trial on multiple counts of murder. He's almost certainly facing a death sentence for his crimes. We're used to hearing about crimes from the point of view of the victim, but Nobel Laureate Imre Kertész uses Martens' own voice to tell his story. Used to being the one in charge, the one who instilled fear in others he now finds himself fearful of what the future might hold for him.

It's a grim tale, a confession of the fear and humiliation he meted out, of family allegiances broken. Victims became collaborators. Martens recounts his involvement in the torture and murder of Federigo and Enrique Salinas. They were people of principle but passive in their opposition to the regime. Martens felt that he escaped the moral consequences of what happened to the family because he simply issued warrants for their arrest - the 'dirty work' was done by his underlings. Enrique, the son, led an aimless life and it was relatively simple to turn him against his father. Any means were then justified to achieve the regime's aims.

Kertész is a survivor of Auschwitz and it seems that the camp was run on the same lines. The people taking the decisions abrogated responsibility as they simply gave orders and didn't do the dirty work. Those who did the dirty work felt no responsibility as they were only following orders. It's a stark pointer to the inherent danger of passivity in times of crisis, to how easy it is for the unprincipled to hold sway.

There's a lot packed into this darkly cynical novella and I found it a worrying rather than an enlightening read. This was partly due to the fact that I thought that the content really merited a larger work. I felt a need to explore Martens' motivation for what he did but they were strangely absent even in the form of self-justification. I saw a snapshot of Martens at a particular point in time with no sense of where he came from or where he might be going other than his death. In a sense this is my failing rather than the book's - my wish for completeness against Kertész' grasp of a wider picture.

Tim Wilkinson has translated the novella from the original Hungarian and the result is smooth and eminently readable.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

It's coincidental that this book has been published at the same time as a factual account of genocide from the point of view of the killers. A Time for Machetes is equally chilling.

Booklists.jpg Detective Story by Imre Kertesz is in the Top Ten Books Not Originally Written In English.

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