Detective Story

Imre Kertesz

translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson
Knopf 2008 [1977]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2011
When university student Enrique Salinas feels compelled to rebel against a government that is brutally repressing political dissent, his father, a respectable businessman, comes up with a scheme which turns out to be rather too clever. Detective Story is told not from their perspective, however — except for some excerpts from Enrique's diary — but from the point of view of Antonio Martens, a member of the secret police who is now in prison for their murder.

In a matter-of-fact narrative — placing himself in the tradition of film detectives and using the language and cliches of the genre — Antonio describes how he left the ordinary police to join "the Corps", his sadistic colleague Rodriguez and his diabolical boss Diaz (still on the run), and their investigation of Enrique Salinas. The result is a dark farce, an appalling picture of the banality of evil and the organisational logic of totalitarian policing.

Writing from the perspective of the torturers is always a risky business, especially when there are elements of farce and the presentation is so nonchalant, with the horror of what is happening presented as almost accidental and the details implied rather than described. In his novels of the Holocaust Kertesz had personal experience to guide him, but the unnamed South American state in Detective Story makes for a more uneasy and generally less convincing setting.

It is still a fine piece of writing, but I recommend that newcomers to Kertesz start with one of his other works.

Detective Story was originally published in Hungarian in 1977.

January 2011

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- more Hungarian literature
%T Detective Story
%A Kertesz, Imre
%M Hungarian
%F Wilkinson, Tim
%I Knopf
%D 2008 [1977]
%O hardcover
%G ISBN-13 9780307266446
%P 112pp