”Maids drank ground-up match heads to poison themselves and flung themselves in front of trams. Barbers dismembered their lovers. Divorcees slashed their veins with razors. Tradesmen’s apprentices leaped off the Franz Joseph Bridge. Jealous civil servants cut their wives to shreds with butcher knives. Businessmen shot their rivals with revolvers. The possibilities were endless, and yet they were oppressively the same, for the end was always identical.”Budapest 1930s
This book is set in the 1930s, but with a little quick research I was unsettled to find that Hungary still ranks very high for suicides. In fact in the recent figures they are 10th in the world for most suicides per 100,000 residents, so unfortunately they are still struggling with depression. (Interesting enough the most dangerous place for melancholy and suicide is Greenland by a WIDE margin, so if you are of a sad nature and are thinking about moving to Greenland...reconsider.) This book is set in the 1930s and so given the alarming number of girls that are poisoning themselves finding a body of a young lady with no marks of violence on her body on Nagy Diofa Street was no surprise to the reporter and hero of our story Zsigmond Gordon. Still there were nagging concerns.
One of the problems with Hungary is that they are a country that has suffered from what could be a record number of occupations. Beginning with the Celts, Romans, Huns, Slavs, Gepids, and Avars. More recently they were occupied by the Germans during WW2 quickly followed by the Soviets. When we toured Budapest a few years ago the tour guide, very candidly told me that Hungary simply can’t fight, horrible fighters. “They have lost every battle they have ever fought.” Now instead of scoffing at their lack of warrior prowess it was actually an endearing moment for me. People who just can’t embrace war just might be more evolved than the rest of us. As we toured all these monolithic, dark, gothic, empty churches my wife asked why they were empty? The tour guide said, “Because after the Germans and the Soviets we felt that GOD had turned his face away from us.” (The way she said it I can’t possibly adequately express here, but it still gives me a lump in my throat every time I think about it.) They are a nation of agnostics. Maybe instead of sending missionaries to Afghanistan the churches of America need to send people to Hungary. It may be shocking to some for me to be advocating religion, but I know it provides solace for a number of people and I have to believe that the people of Hungary need something more than what they have now.
After discovering a nude picture of the girl in the desk drawer of the police chief, Nosy Gordon as is the nature of investigative reporters, becomes more intrigued with discovering the facts of the case and when the identity of the girl is revealed he is spurred on. When he starts to realize he is over his head and wants to let go the threads of the mystery his talented and artistic girlfriend Krisztina insists that he must do his job and find out who is really behind this girl’s death.
Gordon gets the absolute crap beat out of him.
Okay up until this point I was starting to really wonder where the NOIR of the book was going to come into play. Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and Lew Archer are just not digging deep enough into the case unless they get sapped from behind or bruised by a few fists. ”Gordon could hear the man’s fingers cracking as he made a fist. He didn’t even see the fourth blow coming--which for once didn’t land in his gut but on his chin. Gordon felt his lips tear and heard his teeth grind as they slid over each other. The man behind him now let him go. Gordon collapsed like a marionette whose strings had been cut. His head knocked hard against the pavement.”
And what self-respecting villain doesn’t threaten your significant other as he walks away from leaving you bleeding on the pavement. ”You should call it quits here and now. If you don’t, your pretty little girlfriend won’t look so pretty with a sliced-up face.”Gyula Gombos died before the shit hit the fan.
Gordon becomes more determined than ever to bring down those responsible. The prime minister Gyula Gombos has died and the city is holding it’s breath as power is being reallocated. Policemen are busy with preparing for the grand parades and the civic events that are surrounding a state funeral and have little time to worry about one girl’s death. Political intrigue adds overtones to the state of affairs. The matter of fact way that the characters discuss political corruption and the helplessness they feel about being able to change the path of their nation gives the reader an idea of what it means to be landlocked between powerful countries and having to be resigned to the fact that there is no escaping any upcoming conflict. You can smell the sulfurous stench of emerging Nazism and can feel the palatable fear of a population with a very uncertain future. I’m looking forward to more entries in this series.