Russell James has been named “the Godfather of Noir” by Ian Rankin. Russell writes crime novels - about criminals and victims, not the cozy procedural or whodunnit. He is the editor of Great British Fictional Detectives.
The second in the Prosecutor Teodor Szacki series starts promisingly, with Szacki banished from Warsaw to the remote and apparently placid provincial town of Sandomierz, where the peaceful, conformist lifestyle is about to be broken with a short series of nasty, ritualistic and clearly linked murders. Are they, as they appear or have been made to appear, parts of a deranged Jewish ritual? (This is Poland, remember, where even if you didn’t know, the book will be make it abundantly clear that there has been and still is what might be euphemistically called an uneasy relationship between Poles and Jews.)
Well, no prizes for guessing whether this or is not a mad Jewish plot – though you are unlikely to predict the Agatha Christie inspired denouement, one that is, sadly, teeth-grittingly unlikely and unfitted to a modern ‘realistic’ novel. It’s a shame, because the first half of this well-written and well translated book is good but, once things start ‘clicking’ in Szacki’s brain (as they do too often), the book slides into a descent towards its unsatisfactory ending.