Exclusive extract from Gianrico Carofiglio’s The Cold Summer (Italy)

To celebrate the publication of Gianrico Carofiglio’s The Cold Summer (trans. by Howard Curtis, Bitter Lemon Press), we have an exclusive extract from the novel on ‘Mrs Peabody Investigates’ today.

And if that weren’t enough of a treat, UK readers also have the opportunity to see Gianrico Carofiglio live in conversation next week. He’ll be appearing on Wednesday 19th September at Waterstones in Bath, and on Thursday 20th September at the Italian Cultural Institute in London. Do come along if you get the chance!

For those of you who’ve not yet discovered Carofiglio’s work: he is one of Italy’s best known crime writers, whose novels draw on his experiences as a prosecutor specializing in organized crime. As well as examining the role of the Mafia in Italy, and response of the Italian police and judiciary to its diverse threats, Carofiglio’s works explore contemporary issues such as immigration, racism and justice – as seen in his acclaimed novel Involuntary Witness, featuring defence counsel Guido Guerrieri.

The Cold Summer is the first of Carofiglio’s works to feature Pietro Fenoglio, a Carabinieri officer working in Bari, Puglia (in southern Italy, just at the top of its heel). The novel is set in the cold summer of 1992, which was ‘cold’ not just because of its unseasonable temperatures, but because it was the summer in which two prominent Sicilian anti-Mafia prosecutors were killed – a major setback in the fight against organized crime.

The cover of the original Italian novel (2016)

The novel focuses on the local Mafia wars in Puglia in the early 1990s, and is based on true events. Fenoglio, at a melancholy ebb after being left by his wife, is asked to investigate the killing of a Mafia boss’s son. The most likely suspect is a rival member of the Mafia, but something about the case doesn’t feel right to Fenoglio, who probes further, with the help of his colleague Pellecchia.

A hard-hitting and multilayered novelThe Cold Summer gives readers a fascinating, detailed insight into the workings of the Mafia and the judicial system, as well as showing the enormous pressures faced by the police and public prosecutors when battling organized crime. It’s absorbing and gripping in equal measure, and the central investigative character of Fenoglio, as the extract below shows, is a complex and intriguing one.

 

Extract from The Cold Summer

Translated by Howard Curtis, Bitter Lemon Press 2018. Reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher.

Act One – Days of Fire

Chapter 1

Fenoglio walked into the Caffè Bohème with the newspaper he’d just bought in his jacket pocket and sat down at the table by the window. He liked the place because the owner was a music lover and every day chose a soundtrack of famous romantic arias and orchestral pieces. That morning, the background was the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, and given what was happening in the city, Fenoglio wondered if it was just coincidence.

The barman made him his usual extra-strong cappuccino and brought it to him together with a pastry filled with custard and black cherry jam.

Everything was the same as ever. The music was discreet but quite audible to those who wanted to listen to it. The regular customers came in and out. Fenoglio ate his pastry, sipped at his cappuccino and skimmed through the newspaper. The main focus of the local pages was the Mafia war that had suddenly broken out in the northern districts of the city and the unfortunate fact that nobody – not the police, not the Carabinieri, not the judges – had any idea what was going on.

He started reading an article in which the editor himself, with a profusion of helpful advice, informed the law enforcement agencies how to tackle and solve the phenomenon. Finding the article engrossing and irritating in equal measure, he did not notice the young man with the syringe until the latter was already standing in front of the cashier and yelling, in almost incomprehensible dialect, “Give me all the money, bitch!”

The woman didn’t move, as if paralysed. The young man held out the hand with the syringe until it was close to her face. In an impressively hoarse voice, he told her he had AIDS and yelled at her again to give him everything there was in the till. She moved slowly, her eyes wide with terror. She opened the till and started taking out the money, while the young man kept telling her to be quick about it.

Fenoglio’s hand closed over the robber’s wrist just as the woman was passing over the money. The young man tried to jerk round, but Fenoglio made an almost delicate movement – a half turn – twisting his arm and pinning it behind his back. With the other hand, he grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back.

“Throw away the syringe.”

The young man gave a muffled growl and tried to wriggle free. Fenoglio increased the pressure on his arm and pulled his head back even further. “I’m a carabiniere.” The syringe fell to the floor with a small, sharp sound.

The cashier began crying. The other customers started to move, slowly at first, then at a normal speed, as if waking from a spell.

“Nicola, call 112,” Fenoglio said to the barman, having ruled out the idea that the cashier might be in a fit state to use the telephone.

“Down on your knees,” he said to the robber. From the polite tone he used, he might have been expected to add: “Please.”

As the young man knelt, Fenoglio let go of his hair but kept hold of his arm, although not roughly, almost as if it were a procedural formality.

“Now lie face down and put your hands together behind your head.”

“Don’t beat me up,” the young man said.

“Don’t talk nonsense. Lie down, I don’t want to stay like this until the car arrives.”

The young man heaved a big sigh, a kind of lament for his misfortune, and obeyed. He stretched out, placing one cheek on the floor, and put his hands on the back of his neck with almost comical resignation.

In the meantime, a small crowd had gathered outside. Some of the customers had gone out and told them what had happened. People seemed excited, as if the moment had come to fight back against the current crime wave. Some were yelling. Two young men walked into the café and made to approach the robber.

“Where are you going?” Fenoglio asked.

“Give him to us,” said the more agitated of the two, a skinny, spotty-faced fellow with glasses.

“I’d be glad to,” Fenoglio said. “What do you plan to do with him?”

“We’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again,” the skinny fellow said, taking a step forward.

“Have we ever had you down at the station?” Fenoglio asked them, with a smile that seemed friendly.

Taken aback, the man did not reply immediately. “No, why?”

“Because I’ll make sure you spend all day there, and maybe all night, too, if you don’t get out of here right now.” The two men looked at each other. The spotty-faced young man stammered something, trying not to lose face; the other shrugged and gave a grimace of superiority, also trying not to lose face. Then they left the café together. The little crowd dispersed spontaneously.

A few minutes later, the Carabinieri cars pulled up outside and two uniformed corporals and a sergeant came into the café and saluted Fenoglio with a mixture of deference and unconscious wariness. They handcuffed the robber and pulled him bodily to his feet.

“I’m coming with you,” Fenoglio said, after paying the cashier for the cappuccino and the pastry, heedless of the barman’s attempts to stop him.

Chapter 2

“I’ve seen you somewhere before,” Fenoglio said, turning to the back seat and addressing the young man he had just arrested.

“I used to stand near the Petruzzelli in the evening when there was a show on. I parked people’s cars. You must have seen me there.”

Of course – that was it. Up until a few months earlier he had been an unlicensed car park attendant near the Teatro Petruzzelli. Then the theatre had been destroyed in a fire and he had lost his job. That was how the young man put it: “I lost my job,” as if he had been working for a company and they’d dismissed him or closed down. So he’d started selling cigarettes and stealing car radios.

“But you make hardly anything at that. I’m not up to doing burglaries, so I thought I could rob places with the syringe.”

“Congratulations, a brilliant idea. And how many robberies have you committed?”

“I haven’t committed any, corporal, would you fucking believe it? This was my first one and I had to run into you, for fuck’s sake.”

“He isn’t a corporal, he’s a marshal,” the carabiniere at the wheel corrected him. “Sorry, marshal. You aren’t in uniform, so I had no idea.

I swear it was my first time.”

“I don’t believe you,” Fenoglio said. But it wasn’t true. He did believe him, he even liked him. He was funny: his timing when he spoke was almost comical. Maybe in another life he might have been an actor or a stand-up, instead of a petty criminal.

“I swear it. And besides, I’m not a junkie and I don’t have AIDS. That was all bullshit. I can’t stand needles. If talking bullshit is a crime, then they should give me a life sentence, because I talk a lot of it. But I’m just an idiot. Put in a good word for me in your report, write that I came quietly.”

“Yes, you did.”

“The syringe was new, you know, I just put a bit of iodine in it to look like blood and to scare people.”

“You do talk a lot, don’t you?”

“Sorry, marshal. I’m shitting my pants here. I’ve never been to prison.”

Fenoglio had a strong desire to let him go. He would have liked to tell the carabiniere at the wheel: stop and give me the keys to the handcuffs. Free the boy – he still didn’t know his name – and throw him out of the car. He had never liked arresting people, and he found the very idea of prison quite disturbing. But that’s not something you broadcast when you’re a marshal in the Carabinieri. Of course, there were exceptions, for certain crimes, certain people. Like the fellow they’d arrested a few months earlier, who’d been raping his nine-year-old granddaughter – his daughter’s daughter – for months.

In that case, it had been hard for him to stop his men from dispensing a bit of advance justice, by way of slaps, punches and kicks. It’s tough sometimes to stick to your principles.

It was obvious he couldn’t free this young man. That would be an offence – several offences in fact. But similarly absurd ideas went through his head increasingly often. He made a decisive gesture with his hand, as if to dismiss these troublesome thoughts, almost as if they were entities hovering in front of him.

“What’s your name?” “Francesco Albanese.”

“And you say you’ve never been inside?” “Never, I swear.”

“You were obviously good at not getting caught.”

The young man smiled. “Not that I ever did anything special. Like I said, a few cigarettes, a few cars, spare parts.”

“And I guess you sell a bit of dope, too, am I right?” “Okay, just a bit, where’s the harm in that? You’re not arresting me for these things as well now, are you?”

Fenoglio turned away to look at the road, without replying. They got to the offices of the patrol car unit and Fenoglio quickly wrote out an arrest report. He told the sergeant who had come on the scene to complete the papers for the Prosecutors’ Department and the prison authorities, and to inform the assistant prosecutor. Then he turned to the robber. “I’m going now. You’ll appear before the judge later this morning. When you talk to your lawyer, tell him you want to plea-bargain. You’ll get a suspended sentence and you won’t have to go to prison.”

The young man looked at him with eyes like those of a dog grateful to its master for removing a thorn from its paw. “Thank you, marshal. If you ever need anything, I hang out between Madonnella and the Petruzzelli – you can find me at the Bar del Marinaio. Anything you want, I’m at your disposal.”

This second reference to the Teatro Petruzzelli put Fenoglio in a bad mood. A few months earlier someone had burned it down, and he still couldn’t get over it. How could anyone even think of such an act? To burn down a theatre. And then there was the absurd, almost unbearable fact – God alone knew if it was a coincidence or if the arsonists had wanted to add a touch of macabre irony – of burning it down after a performance of Norma, an opera that actually ends with a funeral pyre.

The Petruzzelli was one of the reasons he liked – had liked? – living in Bari.

That huge theatre which could hold two thousand people, just ten minutes on foot from the station where he worked. Often, if there was a concert or an opera, Fenoglio would stay in the office until evening and then go straight there and up to the third tier, among the friezes and the stucco. When he was there, he could almost believe in reincarnation. He felt the music so intensely – that of some composers, above all baroque ones, especially Handel – that he imagined that in another life he must have been a kapellmeister in some provincial German town.

And now that the theatre was gone? God alone knew if they would ever rebuild it, and God alone knew if those responsible would ever be tracked down, tried and sentenced. The Prosecutor’s Department had opened a case file to investigate “arson by persons unknown”. A good way of saying that they hadn’t the slightest idea what had happened. Fenoglio would have liked to handle the investigation, but it had been entrusted to others, and he couldn’t do anything about it.

“All right, Albanese. Don’t do anything stupid. Not too stupid, anyway.” He gave him a slap on the shoulder and walked off in the direction of his own office.

At the door he found a young carabiniere waiting for him. “The captain wants to speak to you. He’d like you to go to his office.”

**********

Captain Valente was the new commanding officer of the Criminal Investigation Unit. Fenoglio hadn’t yet decided if he liked the man or was made uncomfortable by him. Perhaps both. He was certainly different from the other officers he’d had to deal with during his twenty years in the Carabinieri.

He had arrived only a few days earlier, bang in the middle of this criminal war that didn’t yet make sense to anyone. He came from Headquarters in Rome, and nobody knew why he had been sent to Bari.

“Come in, Marshal Fenoglio,” the captain said as soon as he saw him at the door.

That was one of the things that puzzled him: Captain Valente addressed everyone formally, always using rank and surname. The unnamed rule of behaviour for officers is that you use rank and surname towards your superiors and call your subordinates by their surnames, or even their first names. And of course, among those of the same rank, first-name terms are the rule. Among non-commissioned officers, things are less clear, but in general it’s rare to find the commanding officer of a unit being so formal with all his men.

Why did he behave in that way? Did he prefer to keep a distance between himself and his subordinates? Was he a particularly formal man? Or particularly shy?

“Good morning, sir,” Fenoglio said.

“Please sit down,” Valente said, motioning him to a chair. That combination of formality and cordiality was hard to make sense of. Then there was the decor of the room: no pennants, no crests, no military calendars; nothing to suggest that this was the office of a captain in the Carabinieri. There was a TV set, a good-quality stereo, a sofa and some armchairs; a small refrigerator and some pictures in an expressionistic style, somewhat in the manner of Egon Schiele. There was a slight perfume in the air, coming, in all probability, from an incense burner. Not exactly a martial kind of accessory.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you for the past two days.

I’m afraid I’ve come to Bari at a bad time.”

“That’s true, sir. And with the lieutenant’s accident, you don’t even have a second-in-command.”

The lieutenant had broken a leg playing football and would be out of action for three months. So the unit had found itself with a new captain who had no knowledge of the city and its criminal geography and was without a second-in-command, all in the middle of a Mafia war.

“Can you explain what’s going on in this city?” Valente said.

 

Further information about The Cold Summer can be found at Bitter Lemon Press here.

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Teresa Solana, The First Prehistoric Serial Killer (Spain) #WITMonth

Teresa Solana, The First Prehistoric Serial Killer and Other Stories, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush (Bitter Lemon Press 2018 – published 15 August)

First line: A number of us woke up this morning when the storm broke, only to find another corpse in the cave.

Teresa Solana has carved out a distinctive space for herself as a crime writer with her ‘Barcelona’ crime series, featuring private detective twins Borja and Eduard. Irreverent and satirical, her novels deconstruct Catalan society, puncturing the pretensions of rarefied literary circles or the New Age meditation scene. One of the murder weapons in The Sound of One Hand Killing is a Buddha statue, which gives you some idea of the wicked humour that infuses Solana’s writing.

The First Prehistoric Serial Killer is something a little different – a collection of crime stories that shows the author at her most freewheeling and inventive. Take for example the eponymous opening story, which is set in prehistoric times, but whose detective caveman, Mycroft, seems to have an in-depth knowledge of psychological profiling and investigative terms – all very tongue-in-cheek. Narrators range from a concerned mother-in-law and spoiled museum director to a vampire and a houseful of ghosts, with each story giving Solana a chance to stretch her imagination to the full – crime, humour and the grotesque are mixed in equal measure into a vivid narrative cocktail.

For me, however, it was the second half of the book that stood out – a set of eight stories under the heading ‘Connections’ – almost all set in Barcelona, and all linked in some way. In a note to readers, Solana describes the stories as a ‘noirish mosaic that shows off different fragments of the city, its inhabitants and history’ and then throws down a gauntlet… ‘Reader, I am issuing you with a challenge: spot the connections, the detail or character that makes each story a piece of this mosaic’.

Well, it took me a while, but I had the greatest of fun figuring out the links between the stories (some really are just a passing detail, and I can only imagine the devious pleasure the author had in planting them). My favourites were ‘The Second Mrs Appleton’, for its deliciously twisted denouement, and ‘Mansion with Sea Views’, whose conclusion was unexpectedly dark and disturbing.

As some of you may already know, August is ‘Women in Translation’ month  (#WITMonth), an initiative that seeks to promote the works of international women authors, and to highlight the relative lack of women’s fiction in translation. Big thanks are due to Bitter Lemon Press for championing the work of Solana in the English-speaking world, and to her translator, Peter Bush, who does such a wonderful job of communicating Solana’s very special authorial voice.

And here, in no particular order, are another five crime novels by women in translation that I’ve particularly enjoyed and covered on the blog.

Masako Togawa, The Master Keytranslated from Japanese by Simon Cove (Pushkin Vertigo 2017) – 1960s character-driven Tokyo crime with a twisty-turny plot. 

Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw, translated from Greek by Yannis Panas (Black and White Publishing 2013) – a mind-bendingly imaginative apocalyptic hybrid crime novel.

Elisabeth Herrmann, The Cleanertranslated from German by Bradley Schmidt (Manilla 2017) – a quirky Berlin thriller with an unforgettable protagonist. 

Dolores Redondo, The Invisible Guardian, translated from Spanish by Isabelle Kaufeler (HarperCollins, 2015) – the first in a distinctive police series, set in the Basque country.

Malin Persson Giolito, Quicksand, translated from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Simon & Schuster 2017) – our 2018 Petrona Award winner; a superb exploration of the fallout from a school shooting.

Interview with Simone Buchholz: Hamburg Noir and why everyone needs a ‘beer family’

It’s my pleasure to welcome German crime writer Simone Buchholz to the blog today. Simone is based in in the northern city of Hamburg and is the author of the highly acclaimed ‘Chastity Riley’ series, which draws on private-eye conventions to create stylish, urban noir with a German twist. Blue Night (Blaue Nacht) is her English-language debut, beautifully translated by Rachel Ward and published by Orenda Books.

German crime writer Simone Buchholz

At the beginning of Blue Night, we join Hamburg state prosecutor Chas Riley as she hits a career low. After an unfortunate incident involving a gun and a gangster’s crown jewels, she’s been shunted off to witness protection, a job she finds increasingly dull. But all that changes when she’s assigned the case of a badly beaten man with a missing finger, who is oddly reluctant to divulge his identity. Chas is up for the challenge, and so the investigation begins, with the help of her loyal group of St. Pauli friends.

First line: A kick in the right kidney brings you to your knees.

Mrs P: Simone, welcome to the blog and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed (in English to boot!). Your lead investigator, Chastity ‘Chas’ Riley, has an unusual family background. Why did you opt to give her a German mother and an American father who was a former GI?

Simone: I grew up in southern Germany near Frankfurt, and when I was a child there were still a lot of US Army soldiers in our little city. There was even a real American quarter in town, with bigger streets, bigger cars, basketball cages, the whole American lifestyle. And there were also the children of these GIs – but mostly without fathers because GIs normally returned to the US as soon as one of their German girls got pregnant, it was some kind of army policy. To me these children (who were at school with us) always seemed homeless and maybe this shaped a part of my soul.

So when I was looking for a main character for my crime novels I remembered these children and I always liked the American way of storytelling. Riley came to me really quickly and quite naturally.

Mrs P: What made you gravitate towards the noir form when writing the ‘Riley’ series and Blue Night?

Simone: I think at first it just was the noir sound I wanted to use. And then I thought: if I want to tell stories about our society I’ll have to look in the dark corners of life. Once you start doing this, you just can’t stop. It transforms the way you look at mankind. For me, it’s the most interesting way of telling the truth.

“Killer eyes. Killer legs. Killer instincts. A private detective with a name as tough as she is.”

Mrs P: Who are your literary inspirations? American authors of hard-boiled crime, like Chandler and Hammett? Sara Paretsky (author of the ‘V.I. Warshawski’ series) and Jakob Arjouni (author of the ‘Kayankaya’ series)? Or others?

Simone: The first real literature I read was Hemingway – I found his books on my father’s bookshelf, and I really loved the sound and the way Hemingway showed the inner world of his characters by just letting them compose their drinks. Then came Chandler. And then – yes! – a V.I. Warshawski movie with the fabulous Kathleen Turner. Finally Jakob Arjouni appeared. The way he transformed this classic American hard-boiled sound into a German city [Frankfurt] and red light district was hilarious. When I took my first steps in crime writing ten years ago I always had all of this stuff in mind. And I just tried to do something like that. I wish Arjouni was still alive. I would definitely try to talk to him about his work.

[For an overview of Arjouni’s work, see my earlier blog post here.]

Mrs P: Hamburg, and in particular the famous St. Pauli district, is vividly depicted in Blue Night – which I loved, having spent a happy year living there back in the 1980s. Can you tell us a little about these locations and the role they play in your series?

Simone: The district of St. Pauli, as it comes to life in my novels, is a romantic, very personal version of the real St. Pauli. Some kind of secure place where souls can recover from what’s going on outside the bars and clubs. It’s the place where my characters hide from the world and try to heal their wounds with alcohol, music and cigarettes.

And not forgetting the big harbour we have here, which is very special. It’s the open, wild side of the city. A perfect place for everything to take place in a crime novel.

Map of Hamburg, with the district of St Pauli on the left-hand side, near the city’s port and the River Elbe.

Mrs P: A theme that really shines through in the novel is that of friendship. Are friends the new family in a fragmented, globalized world?

Simone: Before I met my husband, before our son arrived, I often felt a great loneliness – though it didn’t cause me too much suffering. It was OK. But with my parents 500 kilometers away, I had to build some kind of family around me in the big city with the big harbour. I found this family in the bars and it still exists. I meet my beer family at least once a week; it helps me with everything and I’d recommend this to everyone, especially today in these speedy times. If you sit at a bar, having a long deep talk with somebody (with rain outside) – it makes you quiet and calm.

Mrs P: Do you have any favourite German-language crime writers that you’d recommend to UK readers?

Simone: Jakob Arjouni, for sure. And my good friend Friedrich Ani. Bittersweet sound, stories from hell.

Thanks, Simone! There are further reviews and features on Blue Night blog tour.

An extract from the novel is available over at Reading for Pleasure.

Rachel Ward has also written a very interesting post on her experience of translating Blue Night. She illustrates the crucial role that translators can play in championing international literature and bringing novels to UK publishers’ attention.

Eurotour Stop 8. Berlin, Germany: “Mauerpark. Judith wrote it on her list.”

Guten Tag from Berlin! Our final extract is from…

Elisabeth Herrmann, The Cleaner (trans. from German by Bradley Schmidt, Manilla, 2017 [2011], pp. 107-110).

Judith didn’t have any friends, much less any on Facebook. For the last two hours she had been occupied with nothing but searching the internet for articles by and about Kaiserley. […] Kaiserley’s office address: Hausvogteiplatz in Mitte. But she needed his private address. For that, she needed to find as many points of reference as possible to fix him in her crosshairs. […]

She scrolled down to the end of the interview because that was where the personal questions usually came in.

I like the area around Mauerpark, although I always have to park my car somewhere else the night before May Day, so it doesn’t end up a burned-out wreck after the inevitable riots…

Mauerpark. Judith wrote it on her list. She had collected more than twenty pieces of information that made reference to his routes or his neighbourhood. Kaiserley went to the market on Kollwitzplatz on Saturdays, liked the bars around the water tower, liked to take the tram and loved to watch the sunset. Not bad. She might have made it as an old-school spy.

She went to her laptop and entered the positions into Google maps. The result was Kaiserley’s personal corner of Berlin. If she added the fact that his apartment was west-facing and included his mention of ‘climbing stairs’ as a sport, then he lived in the fourth of fifth storey of an old house without an elevator. It was likely near to a tram stop, and a wine shop that supplied him with his beloved Fendant du Valais.

Bingo. Marienburgerstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg.

She went into the hall and grabbed the van keys. It was four thirty in the morning. The time when people slept most deeply.

We’ve finished up our Eurotour with three very lovely days in Berlin, a city I’ve been visiting since 1988, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s laden with history from numerous eras and is constantly transforming itself in some way. No matter how many times I come here, there’s something new to see or do.

Our base wasn’t too far from Kaiserley’s haunts. Here’s a corner of Marienburgerstrasse…

And this is the park at Kollwitzplatz, named after the famous Berlin artist Käthe Kollwitz. Her statue sits rather mournfully in its middle. The water tower mentioned in the passage is visible in the third photo.

Other delights included a Bratwurst in the Alexanderplatz (where the Oktoberfest was already in full swing), with a grand view of the Fernsehturm…

…and a fabulous first with Berlin friend Katy D: watching an episode of the iconic German crime series Tatort in a bar on Sunday evening, which has been a long-held ambition of mine. This is a ritual all over Germany (it would be like us having a weekly screening of a series like Inspector Morse down at the Three Pigeons pub), and was a really convivial experience, with beer, lit candles and good company.

I’ll finish off with a photo of the Fernsehturm at dusk, taken on a lovely, warm evening that felt like the last day of summer.

Well, we’re back off home tomorrow. Thanks so much for accompanying me on this European adventure. It’s been the greatest of fun 😀

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

Eurotour Stop 7. Olsztyn, Poland: “He took a gentle curve onto Kościuszko Street”

Dzień dobry from Olsztyn! Today’s extract is from…

Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Rage (trans. from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones; AmazonCrossing, 2016), p. 11 and p. 13-14. Polish State Prosecutor  Szacki series #3

Historical note – Before becoming a Polish city in 1945, Olsztyn was called Allenstein and was part of East Prussia.

Just after moving to this city, he had read in the Olsztyn Gazette that the city’s traffic operations designer doesn’t believe in the “green wave” – because it makes people drive too fast and thus presents a danger for road traffic – and at first thought it quite a funny joke. But it wasn’t a joke. He soon discovered that in this not very large city, which you could walk across in half an hour, and where vehicles moved down wide streets, everyone was always getting stuck in traffic jams. […]

Finally he began moving again, drove past the hospital, the brothel and the old water tower, and then – after serving his time at the lights again – he took a gentle curve onto Kościuszko Street. Here there was finally something worth looking at, first and foremost the Administrative Court. A huge edifice that demanded respect, it had originally been built as the headquarters of the Allenstein regional administration in the days when the city was part of Germany. It was a wonderful building – a stately, majestic five-storey sea of redbrick rising from a ground floor made of stone blocks. If it had been up to Szacki, he’d have housed all three of Olsztyn’s prosecution services in this building. He thought it would mean something to witnesses to be escorted up the wide steps into a great big building like this one, rather than into the miserable little 1970s box where his own local office was situated. The public should know that the state meant dignity and strength built on a solid foundation, not penny-pinching, stopgaps, terrazzo tiles, and gloss paint on the walls.

The Germans had known what they were doing. Szacki was born in Warsaw, and at first he’d found the Olsztyn citizens’ deference toward the builders of their little homeland irritating. To him, the Germans had never done any building – on the contrary, they had reduced Warsaw to a heap of rubble, thanks to which his native town was a pitiful caricature of a capital city. He had never liked the Germans, but he had to give them credit: everything attractive in Olsztyn – everything that gave the city its character, or made it interesting with the not-so-obvious charm of a thick-skinned woman of the North – had been built by them. Everything else was bland at best, but usually hideous.

I chose this extract before heading off on our travels, and had to laugh when we found ourselves in a traffic jam five minutes after arriving in Olsztyn – the first of many over the next three days. But I found the author’s judgement of the more modern areas a little harsh. Olsztyn is a vibrant, energetic city on the up, and lies in an area of great geographical beauty.

So what’s with Olsztyn, you may ask. Why not a more major city like Gdansk? The answer is that this one has a bit of a personal connection – my mother’s family lived here and in the neighbouring town of Ostróda (Osterode), as well as a tiny village called Marwald (Marwalde). And aside from rediscovering the places where my great-grandparents, grandparents, mother and aunt hung out back in the day, it was nice to get off the beaten track and discover somewhere a little different and rather lovely.

Here’s Olsztyn’s High Gate, which leads the way into the old town.

Olsztyn’s main square. That building in the middle, the Old Town Hall, is now a LIBRARY. Cafes and restaurants abound…

…a very nice place to while away an hour or two on a warm September evening. Yes, it’s more fish soup, plus a delicious egg mayo and dill mixture to go on your bread – or in the soup?

Lovely little book-nook in the evangelical church off the square.

The imposing New Town Hall.

The big bookshop in the new town had a generously proportioned crime section.

Over in Ostróda, there’s a large and rather idyllic lake in the middle of town (one of many in the area – a kind of Polish Lake District).

And a number of beautiful churches.

And here’s the tower of the old church in Marwalde, where my mum remembers sneaking into weddings as a little girl with her sister.

And everywhere we went, the autumn leaves were turning – a beautiful sight.

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

Eurotour Stop 6. Riga, Latvia: “He left the hotel and went in search of the bookshop”

Sveiki from Riga! Today’s extract is from…

Henning Mankell, The Dogs of Riga (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Thompson, Vintage, 2004 [1992]). 

The extract is set in 1991, shortly after the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe. Wallander has travelled to Riga to investigate a case.

“I’d like to go back to the hotel now,” Wallander said when Zids appeared in the doorway. “I have quite a lot of notes to write up in my room this evening. You can come and collect me at 8 a.m. tomorrow.”

When the sergeant had left him at his hotel, Wallander bought some postcards and stamps in reception. He also asked for a map of the city, but as the map the hotel had was not detailed enough, he was directed to a bookshop not far away.

Wallander looked around in the foyer, but couldn’t see anyone drinking tea or reading a newspaper. That means they’re still here, he thought. One day they’ll be obvious, the next they’ll be invisible. I’m supposed to doubt whether the shadows exist.

He left the hotel and went in search of the bookshop. It was already dark and the pavement was wet from sleet. There were a lot of people about, and Wallander stopped now and then to look in shop windows. The goods on display were limited, and much of a muchness. When he got to the bookshop, he glanced back over his shoulder: there was no sign of anybody hesitating mid-stride.

An elderly gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English sold him a map of Riga. He went on and on in Latvian, as if he took it for granted that Wallander could understand every word. He returned to his hotel. Somewhere in front of him was a shadow he couldn’t see. He made up his mind to ask one of the colonels the next day why he was being watched. He thought he’d broach the subject in a friendly fashion, without sarcasm or aggression.

He asked at reception if anybody had tried to contact him. “No calls, Mr Wallander, no calls at all,” was the answer.

He went to his room and sat down to write his postcards, moving the desk away from the window, to avoid the draught. He chose a card with a picture of Riga Cathedral to send to Björk.

It’s over twenty-five years since Wallander visited Riga. Latvia is now an EU member state with a fully functioning democracy and, while signs of the communist era are still visible (neglected old buildings waiting to be rescued), there is a sense of a society and an economy on the up. We’ve really enjoyed our time here.

Riga is full to the brim of beautiful Art Nouveau buildings built in the 1910s. Everywhere you look, there’s another gem.

But there are some stunning modern buildings as well, such as the Latvian National Library (or Glass Mountain, named after an important Latvian fairy tale).

There’s an enormous market down by the river too (four giant hangers), selling everything from mushrooms and pork to eel and pickles.

Riga’s old town feels much less twee than Tallinn’s. Here’s a bit of Riga Cathedral, as featured on Wallander’s postcard.

This is the imposing Freedom Monument (erected in 1935 to commemorate those who died in the War of Latvian Independence, 1918-20).

And the lovely park by it, where you can have a coffee and a pastry.

The orthodox Russian cathedral has some beautiful detail.

Lastly, here’s a view over the river Daugava, with a little remnant of Communism on one of the panels of the railing… which takes us back to Wallander in 1991.

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

Eurotour Stop 5. Tallinn, Estonia: “She kept walking, looking for new evidence of peace”

Tere from Tallinn! Today’s extract is from a novel that is also a crime story…

When the Doves Disappeared by Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen (trans from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers; Atlantic Books, 2015), p. 33. 

The extract is set in 1941. The Red Army has just been driven out of Tallinn by the German National Socialists. As David Smith notes in Estonia: Independence and European Integration, ‘the experiences of the previous year led many Estonians to greet the Germans as liberators, an illusion that was swiftly dispelled during the early months of the Nazi Occupation’ (Routledge, 2001, p. 35).

Tallinn was blooming with Estonian and German flags tangling in the wind. The Palace Theatre was being quickly rebuilt, a crowd of kids already gathered to marvel at the movie posters, even the adults stopping to look at them as they passed, and Juudit got a glimpse of the little red smile of a German actress and Mari Möldre’s long eyelashes. The merriness of the crowd played around Juudit’s ankles and she felt like she’d stepped into a movie herself. It wasn’t real. Still, she would have liked to join in, keep walking with no destination and never go home. Why not? Why couldn’t she? Why couldn’t she participate in the joy? You couldn’t smell the smoke from the fires anymore – at least not here; it was still coming in the windows of her apartment – and she sniffed the air, which carried a smell like freshly baked buns, until she was dizzy. The town wasn’t destroyed after all. The Russians must have been so busy burning the warehouses and factories and blowing up the Kopli armoured train that they didn’t get around to the homes. She kept walking, looking for new evidence of peace, and passed the Soldatenheim, where young soldiers stood casually chatting, and their eyes fastened on her lips, and she sped up, averting her eyes from a woman putting up a big poster of “Hitler, the Liberator” in the window of the button shop. Juudit looked around for something more, greedy to see more people who seemed to have forgotten the last several years. Tallinn was suddenly flooded with young men. It annoyed her. There were too many men. She wished she were home, had a sudden, pressing desire to get back there. She quickly bought a newspaper and also snapped up a copy of Otepää Teataja that someone had used as a lunch wrapper, and she stared for a moment into a café where she had once known the buffet girl by name. Had they already gone back to work or did the café have a new owner and new employees? She had sometimes gone there in the past to enjoy a pastry, meet her friends, but now her wedding ring was tight around the finger under her glove. Near the hospital, Wehrmacht soldiers were snaring pigeons.

We approached Tallinn from the water (on the ferry from Helsinki), so this was our first view of the city.

Our last visit was 2001, sixteen years ago. The old town was still more or less as we knew it (beautiful but quite touristy), and celebrates the city’s medieval, Hanseatic heyday. Below is the famous Old Market Square, which is truly lovely.

The Aleksander Nevski orthodox Russian cathedral is impressively bling (especially inside, where no cameras are allowed).

We enjoyed a coffee in Tallinn’s oldest cafe, Maiasmokk…

…and a very tasty, spicy goulash garnished with thyme.

But we also noticed that there are now lots of sparkling modern buildings and hotels, evidence of Tallinn’s new prosperity following the fall of Communism and joining the EU. New buildings jostle with older ones from earlier eras. While the ghost of Tallinn’s eastern bloc past is definitely present, there was no obvious reference to the 1941-44 Nazi occupation (that I could see), and I suspect that Oksanen’s novel dares to go places that many Estonians would rather not – especially on the question of collaboration. There is a Museum of Occupations that I plan to visit next time…

Here’s a view of the countryside outside Tallinn. Flat and beautiful with big skies.

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

Eurotour Stop 4. Helsinki, Finland: “The tram made Siiri’s beloved curve at Kamppi”

Hei from Helsinki! Today’s extract is from…

Minna Lindgren, Death in Sunset Grove (trans. from Finnish by Lola Rogers; Pan, 2016 [2013]), 128-130.

Siiri sat in her usual seat on the tram and tried to see behind Eira hospital. That was where Villa Johanna was, a whimsical work by her favourite architect, Selim A. Lindquist, which you could see from the number 3 as it turned onto Tehtaankatu. She had a habit of concentrating on one building and trying to think of as many other buildings in Helsinki by the same architect as she could. Selim A. Lindqvist was easy: there were two buildings of his, side by side, on Aleksanterinkatu – numbers 11 and 13.

The number 3B tram changed to the number 3T at Olympia Terminal, and Siiri decided to take it as far as the new opera house. Then she could get on the number 4 to get back to Sunset Grove. She had already ridden around for more than two hours, using any favourite tram route or building she could think of as an excuse to put off going back home, because the mere thought of Sunset Grove gave her a very unpleasant feeling. She didn’t want to see Virpi Hiukkanen, she didn’t want to think about Irma’s confusion and growing suspiciousness, and she didn’t know how to bring up all these worries with Anna-Liisa […]

A talkative little girl was sitting with her mother next to the ticket dispenser, wearing a funny looking hat with bear ears on it. […]

‘Mama, why doesn’t everyone have kids? Why doesn’t grandma have kids? Why, Mama?’

‘Your grandma does have kids. Otherwise she couldn’t be your grandma,’ said a wino across the aisle. The little girl took an interest in this new acquaintance and got up to stand in the aisle, but her mother continued to stare at the rain hitting the window.

‘My grandma is Grandpa’s girlfriend and she’s much younger than my mother, so she could have kids any time she wanted, but Mama wouldn’t want her to. What are your children’s names? Do you have a job? Why not? What do you do, then?’

‘I sit in the park and ride on the tram.’

‘Fun! I want to do that when I’m big!’

The tram made Siiri’s beloved curve at Kamppi and the passengers pricked up their ears to hear the wino’s reaction to the little girl’s future plans.

‘What park do you go to?’ the girl asked. ‘I usually go to the one on Lapinlahdenkatu, but it’s pretty small.’

‘Me too, it’s a nice park.’

‘And Väiski, but only in the winter.’

‘I sometimes go and sit on the rocks at Temppeliaukio. There’s a nice view from there.’

Helsinki gallery

I’m cheating a little, as this is the entrance to Turku station (designed by Väinö Vähäkallio and Martti Välikangas). We caught the train to Helsinki from here after a lovely breakfast in the city’s market place. Finland has some amazing railway architecture…

This is the ticket hall in Helsinki Central station (designed by Eliel Saarinen). It’s a wonderfully beautiful, tranquil space.

Here’s Senaatintori (Senate Square) in the centre of town…

…and one of Siiri’s trams. We’ve been hopping on and off these with our travel cards – a fantastic way to see the city. And I swear I saw Siiri on the 3T…

Twice (in Stockholm and now in Helsinki), we’ve had the most delicious fish stew from indoor food markets for about 10 Euros. They’re hugely generous with the fish, mussels and prawns, and the rich, heady base has a hint of aniseed. The yellow blob is aioli. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Oh, and there’s unlimited bread.

Muumin (moomintroll) notebooks from my favourite bookshop in Helsinki.

Sunflowers are sold at all the outdoor markets at the moment. These were bought in Turku and travelled safely to our Helsinki base, where they sit in a beautiful Iittala vase.

Cinnamon and cardamom buns – divine!

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

Eurotour Stop 3. Stockholm, Sweden: “So he took a quick detour to the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden”

Hej from Stockholm! Today’s extract is from…

Leif G. W. Persson, The Dying Detective (trans. from Swedish by Neil Smith, Black Swan, 2017 [2010], 11-12).

Karlbergsvägen 66 in Stockholm is the location of Günter’s, the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden. It’s surrounded by sturdy stone buildings many storeys high, all constructed at the start of last century. Solid brickwork, carefully laid, brick upon brick, with lime-mortar rendering, bow windows and old-fashioned glass. There are generous lawns in front of the properties and – at this time of year – leafy trees lining the street. When you enter the buildings there is usually red marble in both the lobbies and stairwells, friezes on the ceilings, ornate plasterwork, even dado panelling in places. The skirting boards and doors are made of oak. It is an area that gives a bourgeois, affluent impression.

Günter’s is also located within the old city boundaries of the most beautiful capital in the world. Just a few hundred meters south of Karlberg Palace and Karolinska University Hospital, and close to two of the major roads leading away from the north of the city centre.

The former head of the National Criminal Police, Lars Martin Johansson, really ought to have been at his summerhouse up in Roslagen today, but that morning he had been obliged to come into the city for a meeting with his bank, to conclude a deal about a patch of forest that he and his eldest brother had an interest in. […]

Just a few hundred meters before he would be passing the old tollgate at Roslagstull on his drive north, his hunger got the better of him. There was no way he was going to spend an hour driving when his stomach was already screaming at him. So he took a quick detour to the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden for a well-spiced Yugoslavian bratwurst with salt-pickled Åland gherkins, sauerkraut and Dijon mustard. Or maybe a Zigeuner sausage with its taste of freshly ground pepper, paprika and onion? Or should he stay true to his Norrland roots and partake of a lightly smoked elk sausage with Günter’s homemade mash of salad potatoes?

Stockholm gallery

One of my first destinations in Stockholm was of course Günter’s, the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden. What can I say? The hotdogs are indeed divine (I had a Thüringer with salt-pickled Åland gherkins) and it’s clear from the queues that the place has genuine cult status. Pleasingly, part of the extract above was pinned on the kiosk’s noticeboard: they are rightly very proud of their Persson connection.

We’re both rather in love with Stockholm. The city is filled with architectural beauty and its location on the water is stunning. We’re getting around a lot by ferry.

Then there are the buns…

And last, but by no means least…THE ABBA MUSEUM. A lifetime’s ambition fulfilled!

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

Eurotour Stop 2. Copenhagen, Denmark: “I take the train to Enghave station”

Goddag from Copenhagen! Today’s extract is from…

Peter Høeg, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (trans. from Danish by F. David; Harvill Press, 1996 [1992], 129-30.

I take the train to Enghave station. From there I walk. I’ve had a look at Krak’s Map of Copenhagen at the library on Torvegade. In my mind I have an image of a labyrinth of winding streets.

The station is cold. A man is standing on the opposite platform. He’s staring longingly towards the train that will take him away, into the city, into the crowds. He’s the last person I see.

Right now the inner city is like an anthill. People are crowding into the department stores. They’re getting ready for theatre premieres. They’re standing in line in front of Hviid’s Wine Cellar.

Sydhavnen is a ghost town. The sky is low and grey. The inhaled air tastes of coal smoke and chemicals.

Anyone who is afraid that machines will soon take over should not take a stroll in Sydhavnen. The snow hasn’t been cleared away. The pavements are impassable. Along the narrow, ploughed tracks now and then enormous articulated lorries with dark windows devoid of any humans move. A blanket of green smoke hovers over a soap factory. A cafeteria advertises potato fry-up and sausages. Behind the windows, red and yellow lights shine on lonely deep-fat fryers in an empty kitchen. Above a pile of coal and slush a crane moves aimlessly and restlessly back and forth on its rails. From the cracks in closed garage doors there are some bluish glimmers and the crackling of arc welders, and the jingling of the illegal money being earned, but no human voices.

Then the road opens on to a picture postcard: a large harbour basin surrounded by low yellow warehouses. The water is iced over, and while I’m still taking stock of the view, the sun appears, low, white-gold, surprising, and lights up the ice like an underground electric bulb behind frosted glass. There are small fishing boats at the wharf with blue hulls the colour of the sea where it meets the horizon. On the outer edge of the basin, out in the harbour itself, there is a big three-masted sailing ship. That’s Svajerbryggen.

Copenhagen gallery

We’re staying in the suburb of Westerbro, a gentrified working-class area with lots of lovely red-brick apartment blocks like the one below. Just down the road from us is Enghave station, the first stop on Smilla’s journey in the extract above.

Strøget is the main shopping street in Copenhagen. It opens out onto a little square featuring this delightful stork fountain. There are posh department stores nearby…

…featuring these kinds of fashion posters. Happily, I can confirm that this is still an *unusual* look for Danish men in the capital.

Here’s the famous Nyhaven, an unfeasibly photogenic harbour right in the heart of the city. The harbour that Smilla visits is much bigger (and now much more developed) than this tourist attraction.

Nyhaven is also one of Copenhagen’s main cycling arteries. Pretty much everyone seems to get to work or school by bike, even in the rain. Small kids go in the barrow on the front.

A new bridge now connects Nyhaven and the area of Christiania. This photo looks south; Smilla’s library (on Torvegade) lies on the right-hand shore.

For the foodies: here’s the open prawn sandwich I had for lunch yesterday. It was divine.

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour