Requiem for a Gypsy: A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation by Michael Genelin (Soho Crime; $25.00; 356 pages)
“The nearsightedness created by self-importance would always get in the way of finding evidence, particularly in a case like this.”
Commander Jana Matinova of the Bratislava police force is faced with lies, trickery, gunfire and a manipulative, but adorable, teenage girl named Em in her most recent appearance in Michael Genelin’s mystery series set in Eastern Europe, Requiem for a Gypsy. Commander Matinova, Em and Prosecutor Truchanova are seriously outnumbered by the male characters in this somewhat dark tale of hubris and greed. They may be outnumbered, but they are not timid or shy.
The first death of the book, a hit and run in Paris, sets up the mystery and the second person to die begins what turns out to be a killing spree. The shooting victim, Klara Bogan, and her husband Oto are the hosts of a name day celebration in Bratislava that is quite lavish by Slovakian standards. The party is broken up by deadly gunfire followed quickly by the mass exodus of the guests. To make matters more stressful, Matinova’s superior, Colonel Trokan becomes collateral damage because he has shielded Oto Brogan from the gunfire.
Commander Matinova is thwarted repeatedly as she seeks to determine the name of the intended victim at the party. She believes that Mrs. Brogan is an unlikely target. Colonel Trokan is willing to back his commander; however, State secrets and protocols prevent him from giving her the official lead in the investigation. Enter the arrogant and off-putting sister agencies that are drawn into the story as the killing and deceptions take Matinova on trips around the neighboring countries and even to Paris, France. As expected, the characters display their power in various ways – wearing uniforms, behaving arrogantly, ignoring Matinova or just shooting each other. In the latter case powerful gangsters and law enforcement officers are equally involved.
Author Genelin provides a rich mix of regional history and politics as he presents the reader with one red herring after another. His portrayal of the nasty xenophobia present in Eastern European culture is portrayed well by his character Georg Repka, who Matinova initially idolizes and later despises when she sees his true nature.
The heaviness of the story is enlivened by Em, who wrangles her way into Matinova’s care and protection by knocking at Matinova’s door in the middle of a snowstorm. Who can resist a waif-like girl selling earings door-to-door in the cold? Surely not Matinova who is lonely and misses her granddaughter who lives thousands of miles away in the USA. Em steals the scene whenever she appears in the story. Genelin has the ability to set up Em with plausible truths and convenient lies that the reader is hard pressed to differentiate. His experience as a prosecutor in an earlier time of his life shines through on numerous occasions. Moreover, his love of the subtle quirks in dining habits and quaint places around Europe are put to good use as mini characters in the story.
The starkness and lack of colorful descriptions, aside from food and beverage, prevalent until nearly the end of the book, keep the reader focused on the interactions of the characters and the aggression that some of them display as an integral part of life in their world. When Genelin does go into detail about room decor, clothing or symbols of opulence, he reinforces the distance between his heroine’s life and the lives of those she must bring to justice.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Rich in compelling plot twists and sobering history lessons.” Amazon