Book covers

Miloszewski, Zygmunt : A Grain of Truth. - Bitter Lemon Press - £ 7.10.

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 familiar. 

Howard Jackson