Mrs Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkova and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator)
Meet Zofia. A socially climbing wife of a medical professor, she's intent on making herself known as a charitable lady, and keen on her husband progressing yet through his esteemed career. In 1890s Cracow, life is pretty good, but she knows it could always be better. Meanwhile, other people's life could certainly be better – cholera is nearing the city due to lack of hygiene, and many people have to fall on charity and almshouses to keep a roof over their heads. One such was Mrs Mohr, although she was rich enough to keep private lodgings and staff in her charitable home. I say was, for she has vanished. Only due to Zofia's help does she get found, dead and in a place the near-lame woman could never reach by herself. Just who could be killing people in a charity home, and to what end? And why does Zofia feel the need to make a name for herself by answering those questions?
|Mrs Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkova and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator)|
|Category: Crime (Historical)|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: If you take this case on, you will find a rich and meaty world, where an elderly woman in an alms institution is killed off – but you'll have to brave a very unlikeable woman slowly becoming heroine first.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 320||Date: March 2019|
|Publisher: Point Blank|
This was intriguing from the start. It hit a lot of right buttons for me – a setting in a place I love, a slice of historical crime to tempt me into the genre pages, a story beyond the usual thriller plot. But boy it also hit many wrong buttons. For one, Zofia was just too uninteresting. I didn't care who she saw getting on committees ahead of her, and what she thought of her distant cousin rival. My knowledge of crime fiction is so small I don't know Dorothy Sayers' works, but I imagine that Lord Peter Wimsey can be in his thrillers without being such an insufferable hoity-toity snob. That only lasts a couple of chapters, but it's there – I can see people being put off too quickly, before the crime even comes to light. Once that does occur you get too much plotting for the book to rely on this unlikeable character, which is a relief – and by then you're attuned to the possibility of clues in amongst the society reports from theatrical opening nights.
Although there is also the possibility the book is not really about the woman or the crime. For speaking of whimsy, as I almost was, each chapter is given an in which… paragraph to list the contents, and these are archly 'droll'. Which makes one think this is a tongue-in-cheek tome. Added to that is the fact the authoress's name here is a pseudonym for two men, working together almost in the manner of that Luther Blissett project of the 1990s. So while the setting of the story was richly conveyed through the eyes of our heroine, and while her intentions are always severely expressed, you feel there is an arch levity here that is supposed to bear a different aspect to the book – possibly a sense of comedy that hasn't translated too well to English.
But ultimately it's about something else. Zofia is an extreme because the authors want to write about the society of the times – the class divides and everything else prevalent in, let's face it, a heck of a lot of period crime fiction. It's no surprise to see Zofia constantly unable to remember the name of whichever servant she's employing that week. She is a bigot, and that's part of the point. But I do think you have to be a little too patient with her at the beginning – this is written in the third person, but it really shows the world through her eyes, getting us right into the milieu of the late-Victorian snob, Polski style.
Overcome that and you do get a crime story with extra riches – to repeat, we're intimately placed into this setting, and it's conveyed well, all ladies hoiking up their over-long skirts, suffering corsets and all – everything is given us lightly, mind, as opposed to being ladled on with a shovel heavy-handedly. And it's for that that I'd put this book up for your consideration, not so much for the crime, which dawdled a little too much as a result of detail in the décor, and certainly not for the almost insufferable heroine.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Mrs Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkova and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator) at Amazon.com.
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