Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu

The politics of crime…

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When a petty criminal is brutally killed, at first no one pays too much attention. But it quickly turns out he was only the first victim – soon there have been several murders, all carried out the same way: a method which earns the killer the nickname Sword. All the victims have two things in common. They are all criminals, and they are all members of the Roma, a minority ethnic group in Romania. Soon the matter becomes political as long-unresolved racial tensions rise to the surface, leading to outbreaks of violence. This is the story of a new, fragile democracy and of the men who are trying to make it work, or to undermine it…

This is the first book translated by Marina Sofia, long-time blogging buddy and now one of the co-founders of a new venture into translated crime fiction – Corylus books. The translation is excellent, as I expected, knowing Marina Sofia’s skill with words and expertise in about a million languages! Romanian is her mother tongue and English is the language she currently uses in her life, work and writing, so she really is the perfect translator for the book. There’s no clunkiness, and either she or the author, or both, know when an international audience might need a little bit of extra guidance to understand something that may be obvious to Romanians. This meant that, although the story is quite complex, I never felt lost.

The book is a very original take on a crime novel, looking deeply into the politics of racially motivated crime and how it impacts on an already divided society. The first chapter shows us the first murder in fairly graphic detail and it seems as if it’s going to be the start of a more or less standard crime fiction. But almost immediately we are taken, not to the police investigation, but to the corridors of power, where a Presidential election is only a few months away and all the top politicians are jostling for position. Some of the characters are named, but others are simply known by their titles – the President, the Minister of the Interior, and so on. There’s a cast of thousands (slight exaggeration, perhaps) and a handy cast list at the end, although I quickly found I didn’t need it, because in a sense who the characters are doesn’t matter – it’s their role in the politics of the country that matters. By about halfway through some of them had developed distinctive personalities, but others were simply “journalists”, “Presidential advisers”, “political commentators”, etc.

You hate the sound of this now, don’t you? But honestly, it works! It’s not really about the people, or even the crimes – it’s a political thriller about how politicians in a corrupt society manoeuvre, how they manipulate the media and how in turn the media manipulates them. It’s about Romania trying to juggle the demands of all the demanding new European and American partners they have to deal with now they’ve left the Soviet sphere of influence. And it’s a coldly cynical look at how politicians might ruthlessly inflame the divisions in society to boost their own electoral chances.

The Roma are seen as a kind of underclass, marginalised and discriminated against by a society that has written them off as criminals. They are the target of the Romanian version of white supremacists, but even the mainstream parties would rather they just stayed silent and invisible or better yet, left Romania altogether. As more victims turn up, tensions between the Roma and the Romanians grow, eventually leading to a series of violent confrontations, each more serious than the last. For those in power, a difficult balance must be struck – plenty of Romanians see the Sword as some kind of avenging angel, while the equally unscrupulous political leaders of the Roma see it as a way to lever some recognition for themselves. For those who want to be in power, it’s an opportunity – how can they best use it to bring the government to its knees?

Bogdan Teodorescu

I suspect you’d have to be interested in the skulduggery of politics to enjoy this one, although it’s certainly not necessary to understand Romanian politics specifically. The thing that most stood out to me, in fact, was that no matter the country, the corruption and the character of those who seek political power are depressingly similar. It’s so well done – too believable to be comfortable. Seeing how the actions of one man can cause a chain reaction that escalates to a point where society itself is fracturing and in danger of imploding is frighteningly relevant, especially when the basis of the story is about the marginalisation and repression of an ethnic group – something we’re all struggling with in the West at the moment. I love political shenanigans, so I loved the book, and learned a lot about Romania’s recent history as a bonus. Great stuff – highly recommended!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 239…

Episode 239

A special edition this week – every book mentioned is either written, translated or published by one of the many talented friends I’ve made in this strange but rather wonderful online world! As regulars know, I’m in the middle of the biggest reading/reviewing slump in the history of the universe, so I hope that Margot, Matt and Marina Sofia will understand that it may be a while before I review these since I want to wait till my usual bookish enthusiasm is back in proper working order. I’m looking forward to each of them, though – don’t they sound great?

Not so good for the TBR however – up 3 to 217! But who’s counting…?

Crime in Translation 1

Living Candles by Teodora Matei

Marina Sofia of Finding Time to Write has started a new translating and publishing venture with a few like-minded friends. Corylus Books aims to present “some of the great European crime fiction that wouldn’t normally make its way into English”, particularly “crime fiction with a social dimension”. This is one of the first off the press…

The Blurb says: The discovery of a woman close to death in a city basement sends Bucharest police officers Anton Iordan and Sorin Matache on a complex chase through the city as they seek to identify the victim. As they try to track down the would-be murderer, they find a macabre trail of missing women and they realise that this isn’t the first time the killer has struck. Iordan and Matache hit one dead end after another, until they decide they’ll have to take a chance that could prove deadly.

If you enjoy travelling the world virtually through your crime fiction, then Living Candles is the perfect book to convey the atmosphere of the Romanian urban environment. Or at least the murkier side of it: the blocks of flats where the neighbours all know each other’s business, the pensioners gossiping on the bench outside the entrances, the machismo impregnating the atmosphere so thickly, you could cut it with a knife.” Marina Sofia

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Historical Fiction

Atlantic View by Matthew Geyer

I first met Matt virtually several years ago now when we both glowingly reviewed Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary on Amazon US. An exchange of comments on each other’s reviews led me to discover that Matt had written his own novel, Strays, which I subsequently read and greatly enjoyed. Matt has recently started his own blog where he will be reviewing literary fiction as well as telling us about his own writing journey. This is his second novel, and I’m thrilled that he’s included a quote from my review of Strays on the back cover! 

The Blurb says: Set against the backdrop of the Obama presidential election, Atlantic View is the story of how Patrick Munchen loses his job, his wife and his way, only to discover an improbable new path with the support of his daughter, Megan. As the hope for change turns sour in the wake of another American election, the end of one way of life becomes the beginning of another.

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Crime

A Matter of Motive by Margot Kinberg

Margot used to blog about crime fiction and has introduced me to a whole world of authors I didn’t know about over the years we’ve been blog buddies. Her blog is much missed, but if stopping blogging has given her more time for writing then I forgive her! Previously she has written four books starring her academic amateur detective, Joel Williams, the most recent being Downfall. This new one, though, is a departure from that series – a standalone.

The Blurb says: A man is dead in his car, slumped over the steering wheel. But who killed him? Ron Clemons is the last person you’d think would be murdered. His wife and son love him. His employees respect him. His business is doing well. His clients seek him out. But someone wanted him dead.The Clemons case is a golden opportunity for newly minted police detective Patricia Stanley to prove herself. It’s her first murder investigation and she wants to do well. But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, she has plenty to learn about handling a murder. And nearly everyone involved in this one is hiding something. Patricia faces her own challenges, too, as the investigation brings back the murder of an old love.

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Crime in Translation 2

Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu

A second selection from Corylus Books, and this one is translated by our very own Marina Sofia herself! The paper publication has been held up due to the ongoing situation with the pesky plague, but the Kindle version is available for pre-order and will be out on 8th May. Another excellent reason for having a Kindle…

The Blurb says: As a shadowy killer stalks the streets of Bucharest, seeking out victims from among the Roma minority, the police are at a loss to track down the murderer, who always dispatches in the same manner – hence the Sword nickname the media are quick to give to the killer. As panic starts to take hold and inter-racial tensions begin to reach boiling point, those in government and those who want to be try to manipulate the situation for their own ends.

A bestseller in Romania and France, Sword is a tumultuous political thriller by journalist and political analyst Bogdan Teodorescu – echoing much of the fears and tensions of today’s political landscape.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?