In my continual quest for novels to bring you, I kept seeing Budapest Noir by Vilmos Kondor. At first I just passed it by but there was something about it that intrigued me. When I read the publisher’s brief synopsis, I decided it was worth giving a shot. As the title suggests, this is a dark and twisty tale. Because of some of its content, I don’t recommend it for young teens.
Will you like Budapest Noir? Some stories are so dark that like may not be the appropriate word. Will you be caught up in this noir detective thriller and have to read late into the night to see what happens? If you’re like me, the answer is yes.
Zsigmond Gordon is an American-born Hungarian who’s moved back to Budapest, Hungary during the years leading up to World War II. It’s 1936 and he’s the crime reporter for the local newspaper. Everyone calls him Mr. Editor, which he gets a kick out of. He misses things about America but he’s fairly content living in Budapest, with his grandfather, Mor, nearby.
“’And before I hang up on you, I’ll tell you that Mor stopped by this afternoon and brought another jar of jam. I haven’t tasted it yet, but this time it looked edible, surprisingly enough.’ With that, she [Gordon’s girlfriend, Krisztina] slammed down the receiver. Gordon shrugged and put down the phone.”
Prime Minister Gombos has just died, thankfully before his plans to turn Hungary into a fascist state could come to fruition. He had been cozying up to Hitler and Mussolini, and all the good ol’ boys of fascism, so this is probably a better outcome for Hungary or at least everyone secretly hopes it is, although no one would dare to say such a thing in public. The public outpourings of grief are something to behold, no matter what anyone thinks privately.
“’Will the interior minister lift the ban on public gatherings?’ asked Gordon.
‘Why would he do that?’ [Police Inspector Gellert]
‘Aren’t the funeral procession and the burial public gatherings?’
‘You’re not serious, are you?’ asked Gellert, peering out from above his glasses.
‘No,’ replied Gordon. ‘Then I won’t bother you anymore.’
Late one night Gordon gets a tip that a young girl has been found dead on Nagy Diofa Street, the city’s red light district, with a Jewish prayer book in her purse. He rushes out to get the scoop before the coroner can remove the body. He’s disturbed to find that she is not your average street walker and that he’s seen her face before. This is a beautiful young woman in worn but well-tailored clothing and she definitely doesn’t belong on this street.
“For a couple of seconds Gordon stared at those green eyes, the bloodless face, the slightly curly locks of black hair. It wasn’t hard at all to conjure up that sad, defiant smile he’d seen in Gellert’s photographs.”
How did she get there? Who killed her and why? No one knows and no one cares. The authorities dismiss it as just another prostitute in the wrong place at the wrong time. They seem to have no interest in finding out what happened or in finding her murderer.
“’First of all, the case is not my section’s. If it were, I’d know about it. Second, even if it were mine, I wouldn’t be dealing with it now. In case you didn’t notice, we’re burying the prime minister on Saturday. Unless the Communists blow up the Chain Bridge, I won’t be doing anything else until Saturday night.’…’I don’t have time for this,’ said Gellert with a dismissive wave of the hand…Gordon thought about asking Gellert why the dead girl’s photograph was in his desk drawer, but didn’t.”
Something doesn’t add up about this murder and, try as he might, Gordon can’t let it go. Despite being told by everyone to leave it alone for his own safety, he has to find out what happened to this mystery girl. How could he know that doing so will create such a stir politically and endanger not only his life but the lives of everyone close to him?
“’Zsigmond, it’s been five years already since you moved home, but there are a few things you still need to remember.’ [Krisztina]
‘Don’t say it.’ [Gordon]
‘But I will. Here and now, in this country, it does indeed matter who is Jewish and who is not.’ [Krisztina]
Budapest Noir paints a very vivid portrait of life in Hungary at that time. The Great Depression was world-wide, even though we in America sometimes think of it as just something our country suffered through. Hitler was gaining more power every day and Jewish ghettos were springing up all over Eastern Europe. The things people felt they had to do to survive are quite evident. Also quite evident is the overt anti-Semitism prevalent during that period and the lengths some Jewish families took to protect themselves.
This is a sad, dark tale but it’s also a story of determination and the willingness to do anything to ensure dark forces are brought into the light. It’s an excellent reminder that one person can make a difference if they’re willing to stand up and be counted. And, at its heart, this is a very well written thriller and a very satisfying read.
Budapest Noir will be released on January 31, 2012, so it should be available for pre-order at your favorite bookseller below. Just click on the button to go there to get it.
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