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Entanglement by Zygmunt Miloszewski
‘Then a crime novel for some light relief. ENTANGLEMENT has everything I want from a thriller. It opens with a murder and quickly develops into a fast-moving and tightly plotted whodunit with a host of colourful characters and vivid descriptions of contemporary Cracow. But it’s the unsatisfactory personal life and emotional turmoil of its hero, State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki that steal centre stage.’ - Oxford Times
'I think Zygmunt Miloszewski's ENTANGLEMENT might very well be a first for me – I'm almost certain it's the only Polish crime novel I've ever read. And it's another gem from Bitter Lemon Press, who seem to posses the enviable ability to sniff out classy books from all corners of Europe (and, of late, South America).
Teodor Szacki is a world-weary state prosecutor. He's finding his job and bizarre colleagues a strain, and he's not much enamoured of his marriage either – not that his wife Weronika realises that, though. So the attentions of a flirtatious young journalist aren't unwelcome as a way of bringing some sparkle into his grey life.
But then a murder case lands on his desk. Henryk Telak has been found dead in a Warsaw monastery with a roasting spit stuck in one eye. He was one of a small group taking part in a psychotherapy session – so surely there's only a limited number of suspects to deal with.
Except that Teodor's enquiries unearth an unsolved murder from 20 years ago, before the fall of Communism. And the secret police seem to be taking an uncommon interest in the investigation. Teodor also has to deal with a cast of eccentrics, including crude detective Kuzniecow, a couple of dotty therapists and his enigmatic female boss.
ENTANGLEMENT is elegant, understated and enlivened by a charming dry wit which never overwhelms the darker side of the mystery or allows the reader to forget Poland's turbulent past. Antonia Lloyd-Jones's translation brings across the air of menace that shadows Teodor's rather picaresque personal and professional journey through modern-day Warsaw.
I did struggle at times to keep some of the characters straight in my mind; the group undergoing therapy are a touch under-drawn, and I was never quite convinced by the anonymous Mr Big lurking in the background. But these quibbles are over-shadowed by the character of Teodor – conflicted, immaculate in his smart suits and utterly tenacious.
ENTANGLEMENT is Zygmunt Miloszewski's third novel – and there's apparently a sequel on the way. Given the sting in the tail ending to ENTANGLEMENT, I hope it's translated into English with all speed.' - Reviewingtheevidence.com
‘Entanglement is not only a masterful crime novel, it’s a riveting insight into six pivotal weeks in the life of its hero, world weary State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki.
This witty and unusual book has all we require from a thriller. It opens with a murder and quickly develops into a fast-moving and tightly plotted whodunnit, with a host of colourful characters as suspects, crime fighters and key figures in Szacki’s personal life.
Contemporary Warsaw is represented through vivid descriptions of the city and its suburbs, underpinned by summaries of the day’s news headlines.
But when Szacki unearths another murder from 20 years previously, some unwelcome legacies from the city’s Communist past surface to threaten his safety and the security of his family.
The carefully researched and intriguing constellation therapy which is pivotal to Szacki’s investigation lends a texture and complexity to the tale by introducing a new range of possible motives and the blurring of boundaries between what is knowingly instigated by an individual and what is somehow forced upon them after an experimental role-play implants the emotions of others.
Ultimately it is the descriptions of Szacki’s personal life and his emotional turmoil which transcend our expectations of the genre.
We are locked in to his inner journey as he battles to balance his desire for justice and civil servant’s predisposition to follow the letter of the law with his personal conviction and a newly discovered pragmatism. At the same time, Milowszewski’s treatment makes his hero’s marital boredom and his flirtation with a young journalist depressingly believable. In the end, centre stage is taken by Szacki’s distraction from his work and struggles with what he needs, or wants, as a man.’
- Oxford Times
‘The best crime stories are those in which everyone is flawed, both the good guys and the bad guys, the dead and the living. The good guys populating Entanglement are weak, guilty, and rude—human. Which makes them all the more attractive to readers. In this, his third novel, Zygmunt Miloszewski writes not only about the mystery inherent in any crime but about the mysteries of the human psyche—why we love who we love, why we hurt who we hurt, the limits of pleasure and pain.
Teodor Szacki is hoping for a quiet morning at home in Warsaw with his family when the phone rings to call him out to a crime scene. A man has been found with a skewer through his eye after an intense therapy session shared with four other people—the obvious suspects. Over the next few weeks Prosecutor Szacki finds himself baffled by every new piece of information, none of which provide the key to the case. Finally he follows his instincts and discovers he's scratched the tip of an iceberg of historical proportions and inadvertently invited threat onto his own family.
To make matters worse, he's distracted by a lovely journalist who seems to be the antidote to the tired, overly-familiar groove he's fallen into with his wife and daughter. Miloszewski writes, “Everything in his life had already happened. He would never be young again, he would never fall in love with the feelings of a twenty-year-old, he'd never be so deeply in love that nothing else mattered.” Monika is young, independent, and willing. A potential affair plus a tough case drive Szacki to override his daily three-cigarette limit.
Miloszewski, a reporter and editor for Newsweek, writes with elegance and a subtle touch, even when describing the grisly scene of the murder or the viscous sound of an autopsy. His plot is clever without being tiresome, and he makes great use of intersecting threads of history, politics, and psychology. The characters are fully fleshed and recognizable as people you might meet on the street; even the very minor characters like the odd family Szacki meets in an elevator are detailed enough to resonate long after they've made their exit. The character of Prosecutor Szacki has enough charisma and complexity to give competition to the likes of Micael Blomkvist and Rob Ryan. Hopefully the first of many mystery novels from Miloszewski.’ - Foreward Reviews
‘Entanglement combines three of my favourite elements in a novel: a strong sense of place, a realistic criminal investigation, and psychotherapy. I liked it very much indeed, not least because of the faultless translation, including puns and other running black humour – an example:
“Is it long since you divorced?”
“No, not long, a year ago. And not so much divorced, as separated. We didn’t go to court. But now perhaps we’ll manage to botch it all up again”.
“You said “botch it all up again”.
“Oh, of course, I meant patch it all up.”.....
And later: “I’m dread sure it’s because her father abused her as a child.”..
Not an easy task for a translator to make these little jokes work without making it seem forced, but Antonia Lloyd-Jones does a wonderful job here.
The main plot concerns the investigation of an apparent murder that has taken place in a converted Warsaw church during a weekend retreat in which four clients and a psychotherapist undergo “constellation therapy”, explained in fascinating style in the novel. The victim, Henryk Telak, was very depressed and for good reason, to the extent that his death by suicide would have been accepted by his doctor and, probably, the authorities. However, Telak clearly did not commit suicide, so Teodor Szacki, a State Prosecutor, gets the case. In Poland, the prosecutor directs the police investigation and prepares the case for court, so most of the book concerns Szacki’s continually frustrated attempts to find out who killed Telak, and why. There are oodles of atmosphere as he struggles to make progress, both in his own office concerning his less than attractive boss and attempts of a careerist colleague to add a drugs case to his already groaning workload, and at home, in his stale relationship with his wife of 10 years, Weronika, and their 7-year-old daughter, Helka.
Reading the novel, one is immersed in Szacki’s life as the story is told through the perspective of his thoughts: his worries about money, what it’s like living in Warsaw in 2005 (when the novel is set), the history of his marriage and his attraction to a young journalist - who reciprocates his interest with alacrity. And, of course, his insistence on keeping the case on track – pressuring his irascible friend Oleg Kuzniecow, in charge of the police side of the investigation, to follow up increasingly tenuous leads that Szacki feels will eventually unravel the degrees of entanglement in this puzzling conundrum, much to Oleg’s disgust given that he, too, is overwhelmed, underpaid, and under pressures of his own.
I was completely absorbed in the novel – even though I didn’t sympathise too much with Szacki’s actions concerning his lust for a younger woman, it is easy to see how two people can be ground down after a relationship of more than 20 years in which familiarity has replaced excitement. Both partners have demanding careers, need to look after their child responsibly, and despite their professional jobs are unable to afford a reasonable place to live and many basic luxuries such as decent coffee or the sort of birthday party the girl would like. One of the aspects I loved was Szacki’s constant worrying about the case, and his drive as well as willingness to enter fully into psychotherapeutic theories and principles to arrive at an understanding of the dynamics of what happened between the five people present in the fatal weekend that began the novel, in order to travel towards an understanding of what happened and why.
As the book nears the end, Szacki gets closer to discovering what happened, which necessitates investigating events from 25 years ago, before the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Although the author is very strong at conveying the social and historical context of these events, and what it is like to live through them, I think he’s less strong at weaving them into the specific plot. I found Szacki’s Agatha Christie-like exercise at the book’s climax, as well as his encounter in an Italian restaurant, to be not as authentic as the story up to that point, and slightly wished he’d got to his solution by another route, as I think the climax of the book, while perfectly logical, loses its emotional punch a bit as a result.
Nevertheless, this book is superb. It’s gripping as well as remarkably interesting and thought-provoking, in particular in its descriptions of the roles of children in families, as well as in the internal life of Szacki and his relationship with his environment – he's not entirely a likeable person but an admirable one, honest and committed, not always able to predict the emotional consequences to himself of his own actions. There are a couple of recommendations for further reading at the end of the novel which I might well follow up. In the words of Bert Hellinger, the author of one of these books, “No-one is evil, just entangled”. Not least Szacki himself, so I hope we find out more about his future one day fairly soon’
‘In 2005 at a Warsaw monastery, a demanding group therapy session occurs hosted by Cezary Rudski. He tells a tale to the three of his four patents (Euzebiusz Kiam, Hanna Kwiatkowska and Barbara Jarczyk) who remain at the table; Henryk Talek is not there as the therapist assumes he left unable to cope with the intensity.
The next day Henryk is found dead; a roasting spit jammed into his eye. Warsaw prosecutor Teodor Szack leads the investigation, but has no energy for the case. He is bone wearily tired as he interviews the therapist and the three surviving patients. However, he soon finds his inquiry intriguing as he uncovers a link to a cold case homicide over two decades ago when the Communists ran roughshod. Adding to his renewed vigor is meeting enthusiastic reporter Monika Grzelka whose beauty and élan revitalizes him. However, Szack also wonders why the Secret Police are following his every move.
This is a fascinating Polish police procedural in which almost two decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain mysteries remain tied to the Communist era. The investigation is cleverly devised and the ennui Szarck feels at first is powerful as is his sudden zest for life after meeting the energetic journalist. However, the key to Zygmunt Miloszewski’s engaging whodunit is Warsaw as the city comes across modern yet retains the scars of communism.’ - Genre Go Around
'Miloszewski takes an engaging look at modern Polish society in this stellar first in a new series starring Warsaw prosecutor Teodor Szacki. Analyst Cezary Rudzki, the leader of a group therapy session, uses the innovative Family Constellation approach, in which each person pretends to be a relative of each other participant. When one of the four members of the group, Henryk Telak, turns up dead with a skewer through his eye, Szacki investigates. The victim's tragic circumstances--one child a suicide, another terminally ill--suggest to Szacki that a fellow patient got too absorbed in the role-playing and committed the murder as an expression of rage on the part of someone close to Telak. Szacki, who's undergoing a midlife crisis and has ambivalent feelings about his wife, considers an affair with a journalist hoping to get exclusive details on his inquiry. Readers will want to see more of the complex, sympathetic Szacki.' Starred Review - Publishers Weekly
‘THE morning after a gruelling psychotherapy session in a Warsaw monastery, Henry Telak is found dead, stabbed through the eye with a roasting spit. The case lands on the desk of world-weary state prosecutor Teodor Szacki, who is bored with his life, both professional and marital. He is convinced the killer was one or more of the other people undergoing the unorthodox therapy. Or perhaps the therapist. Entanglement (£8.99, Bitter Lemon) is a noirish mystery from Polish journalist Zygmunt Miloszewski, who works for Newsweek. As Szacki steers his way among a gallery of colourful characters and toys with the idea of an extra-marital affair with a flirtatious young journalist, he uncovers another murder which took place 20 years earlier. But the book is as much about a man struggling with a mid-life crisis as it is about the murder investigation. We learn a lot about the city of Warsaw and the way the Polish police and legal system works, and the author uses a paragraph at the start of each chapter to give us a précis of the national and international news of that day. This is Miloszewski's third novel and the first to be translated into English. Despite the gruesome subject, he keeps the tone light with plenty of humour and the pace of the action gradually increases.’ - Newham Recorder
‘Entanglement is set in the summer of 2005, its protagonist a public prosecutor in Warsaw, Teodor Szacki. (In European style, law and order are handled slightly differently here than in the US, and the public prosecutor's function is one encompassing both part of the police role (in particular, the investigation) as well as that of the prosecuting/district attorney.) Only in his mid-thirties, Szacki is underpaid, overworked, and seems to be feeling a bit burnt out. He's semi-happily married, and has a young daughter, but here he also finds himself tempted to have a fling with a journalist. The crime at the center of the novel is the apparent murder of Henryk Telak, found with something like a meat skewer rammed through his eye and deep into his skull. Telak was taking part in a therapy-retreat, and the most likely suspects are the three other participants and the psychotherapist leading the group -- "One body, four suspects -- all sober and well-to-do". The therapy they were taking part in is something called 'Family Constellation Therapy', in which the participants confront some of their issues by play-acting, with the other participants playing the roles of the significant people in their lives; Telak's session had been a particularly unsettling one, and that night he wound up dead. Most of the novel closely follows Szacki as he goes about his job and life, but there are also brief sections in which others are seen to be keeping an eye on the Telak-investigation, making it clear that there is more to this case than is immediately apparent -- and that steps are being taken, in case Szacki digs too deep. Entanglement putters forward without all too much momentum for quite a while, but: "It's impossible not to be entangled", as one character quotes, and the unseen complex connections eventually begin to be revealed -- and this in a post-communist Poland where there's a lot of past below the surface that many people don't want dredged up. Telak was clearly carrying a lot around with him: while he was a fairly successful manager, his beloved daughter committed suicide in her teens, and his son has a heart ailment that requires a transplant if he is to survive much longer. Szacki continues to root around (and to meet up with the oh so tempting journalist, Monika), and eventually some of the pieces come together, in a fairly complex puzzle. At that point he is warned by one useful source of information:
I'll advise you that as you have reached a point in your inquiry -- whatever it may be about -- where you want to talk to me, I would recommend caution.
Caution may help, but Szacki -- with a family to think about -- rightly is (and feels) vulnerable, and soon enough begins to see what he's gotten himself into. Miłoszewski ties the loose threads up fairly well (though it's a bit complicated and feels somewhat artificial -- too much like a mystery-book-plot). There's a decent mix of the Polish-communist legacy, psychotherapeutic mumbo-jumbo, and Szacki's semi-mid-life crisis -- though it all does drag on a bit. Brief summaries of world and local events (and the weather) at the beginning of each of the twelve chapters (each of which covers the events of a single day) nicely situate the book in (near-)contemporary Poland, and the mix of mundane -- the local football (soccer) team's big game, who is going to pick up the girl from playschool, workplace dynamics -- and criminal make for a decent read. Still, it's hard not to feel that Miłoszewski is still trying to come to grips with the genre: not quite a paint-by-the-numbers thriller, his attempts to create a (slightly) flawed but sympathetic protagonist still show too much rough handiwork. But if he can settle down and get comfortable with his character this could be the start of a decent series; the potential is all there.’ - Complete Review
‘Zygmunt Miloszewski's Entanglement, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and published by Bitter Lemon Press, is part procedural, part puzzle, part secret-police intrigue, and in the end, a coherent whole that's funny, engaging, and even profound. There are multiple references to crime fiction from Europe and America, and the denouement proceeds in part with a clever and original take on the classic "get-them-all-in-a-room-and-see-what-happens" scenario à la the classic country-house stories or Simenon's Maigret books. The story mostly follows Prosecutor Teodor Szacki as he struggles to unravel a case that resembles the "locked room" mystery in some ways: a man is murdered during a weekend group therapy session in a monastery/retreat in Warsaw, found with a skewer piercing his eye and brain.
As Szacki struggles with a surfeit of suspects and a paucity of evidence, we get to witness a fully rounded character in a difficult situation: Szacki reads crime fiction, plays computer games, loves his wife and daughter but is sorely tempted by a young reporter, struggles with his reluctant police colleague and his superior (who's more human and complex than many bosses in police procedurals), and exhibits a lot of humor as well as angst. Occasionally we glimpse the scene through the eyes of a mysterious and almost omniscient older man whose ghostly presence becomes more and more important as the story shifts from straight murder mystery to political thriller and back again. And Szacki ends up in the midst of several existential dilemmas, faced with threats to his professionalism, his family, and his sense of self. If the story moves slowly in the early stages, with Szacki's interviews of the therapy group and his investigation into the therapist's unorthodox methods (as well as other cases he has to deal with), the comedy in the prosecutor's comments and observations keeps the tone light and engaging and as the pressure accumulates the story's hold on the reader tightens. When the resolution comes, as Szacki reconvenes the therapy group in a very theatrical way, everything becomes quickly clear, and then gets muddied again. Szacki remains unsure of his situation and his case up to the last sentence and (I hope) into further installmenets of Miloszewski's series yet to be translated. There is, by the way, a diagonal cross through the "l" in Miloszewski that I can't reproduce with my keyboard.
My previous encounters with Polish fiction are with Przybyszewski, Witkiewicz, Bruno Schulz, Gombrowicz, and Kosinski (whose Painted Bird includes an assault on an eye even more viscerally disturbing that the one in Entanglement): each with a particular strain of decadence, oddness, and philosophy that can at least be seen in some overtones in Miloszewski's novel--but Miloszewski refers to crime writers rather than those Polish authors and his emphasis in the end is on more recent Polish history and on contemporary Polish life and balances lightness and depression very well in the prosecutor's character and his story. I wish I could figure out how to pronounce some of the names in the story, though--I wouldn't want a pronouncing dictionary to be included in the text, but it's still distracting to keep running over all those names with no sense of how they should sound--my loss or my fault, I guess (and I'm guessing that Szacki is pronounced something like Shotski--anybody know?).’ - International Noir Blogspot
‘Entanglement by Zygmunt Miloszewski is a superb procedural crime novel of revenge from Poland issued by Bitter Lemon Press, a publishing house specializing in noir crime writing from faraway places. Entanglement is certainly different, set as it is in a world haunted by the specter of a Communist past.
Centered around an apparently ordinary murder case that lands on the desk of Polish State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki, Entanglement is set against the background of recent Polish history, a shadow land of open wounds and bitterness left in the wake of the collapse of the Communist regime: secret police operatives of the Communist era have quietly faded from the scene and attempts to bring them to justice have stalled, creating an unacknowledged atmosphere of bitterness and existential disappointment of justice denied. Yet a full accounting of the past would simply be too costly from both the emotional and political standpoints. Sometimes, it is best to let the past be past, but this becomes yet another moral compromise that Szacki comes up against again and again in the course of the book, making Entanglement a crime novel of some substance. It is also a novel of tension between the past and a future — can a future be built based on an enforced amnesia of the past?
In Entanglement, one father who has lost his young son to secret police torturers takes matters of justice into his own hands. It is up to Szacki to find his path through this convoluted labyrinth as he searches for the killer of a group therapy participant. In doing so, he comes on radar of a secret group of former secret police agents who attempt to sway him in his quest for the truth.
The morning after a group therapy session one of the participants, Henryk Telak, is found dead, struck with a long, sharp object through his eye. In Poland, major crimes are investigated by the prosecutor, who fills the role of a detective, as the function would be understood by an American audience. The prosecutor is assisted in his work by the Police, here embodied in the odd character of Oleg, a man wholly seduced by his own lecherous mind. Once he assembles the facts of the crime, the prosecutor writes a criminal indictment, which he then submits to the court. What is also quite different from the situation of an American detective is that the Polish prosecutor has no partner. Szacki’s quest proceeds slowly at first as he interviews the other members of the therapy group and the therapist. There is little CSI-style flash here. The choice of the prosecutor as protagonist has a lot to do with this I suspect — this is a story of a lone prosecutor whose boss is not friendly and whose colleagues are distant – and the choice creates a situation that results in something closer to a classic mystery where the detective uses his superior powers of reasoning to untangle the puzzle. And the one facing Szacki a mystery that is hard indeed, so much so perhaps that the plot needs a bit of extra help in form of a convenient appearance of a key clue. The strongest part of the novel comes toward the end as the situation and its historical context come completely into light. Szacki’s contact with the two men working in Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, a vast repository of Communist-era files, is particularly tension-inducing and harrowing, evoking the kind of atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia reminiscent of the X-Files: They are watching Szacki, the old comrades, a cabal of powerful former communists against whom there is no recourse, even for the agent of the Polish Republic. Like the FBI agent battling the secret alien cabal in the X-Files, Szacki’s knowledge of the truth is wasted because he is impotent to act on it. His family and his own life are in danger and no one can help him as corruption touches everywhere.
Szacki is initially naive about the past as he pursues his thankless job as prosecutor and investigator of the therapy group murder. In this respect, he stands for the new generation of Poles who were in their late teens when Poland experienced dramatic political changes and for whom the dark past is as much of a shock as it is to a reader who shares his ignorance of recent Polish history in its more paranoid version. And Miloszewski layers on the paranoia with the same kind of suffocating atmospherics of doom closing in on the lone quester for justice as in the best of American noir. The past in Entanglement exerts a shadow over the present and leaves the reader with an unsettling feeling of dread. ‘ - Blogcritics.org