Where The Devil Can't Go

Anthony McIntyre journeys into the world of Polish fiction. 

In Anya Lipska's debut novel, Where The Devil Can't Go,  the Polish community in East London has murder in its midst. Some decades earlier, in the skies above the English Channel, Polish pilots, making up a substantial portion of RAF fighter pilots, fought bravely to prevent the Luftwaffe open up the British mainland for invading ground troops. Some of the survivors’ descendants settled in the city beneath their warring exploits and would now make up the Polish community there, but the bulk of the influx has been a result of modern immigration trends: many of them comprising the construction workforce building the London Olympics physical infrastructure.

The recent slayings are far removed from the legitimacy associated with death inflicted by Polish flyers. The victims were young women rather than Messerschmitt pilots intent on wreaking destruction.

Anya Lipska’s first book is well worth a read. I picked it up at a time when I had been reading a lot of Scandinavian crime friction, wanting to see how the latter compared against others, even managing the amazing Bethlehem Murders by Matt Rees. Both Lipska and Rees are adroit in bringing to the fore the mosaic of the community in which they situated their stories. Lipska is not Polish but is married to a London Pole, with “Anya Lipska” being a pseudonym. That she would go on to write more novels with the same main characters centre stage, suggests the genre must have proved appealing, perhaps even lucrative.

Janusz Kiszka came to live in London in the 1980s and gradually increased his prosperity. Janusz has influence within the community, being something of a redoubtable character whose command of the English language placed him at a societal intersection which served as a vantage point. A sort of enterprising and industrious hard case – a priest Father Piotr Pietruzki, approaches him to enlist his help in finding a waitress from the community of Poles he feels may have gone missing with her boyfriend.

It is not that long ago that people would complain about “the Paddies and their priests” so it ill behoves us to raise our eyebrows towards the Poles and their priests, even though it looks at times like Africans and Poles are the only believers left. Why anybody in their right mind would seek the advice of a priest about matters other than holy water seems incomprehensible. But this is a book about community and to write the priests out might be fashionable but not accurate.

A body is fished out of the Thames, two Polish names tattooed onto it - and it is not too long before Janusz finds himself suspected by Natalie Kershaw and her team of detectives, causing him to recall the Polish proverb “where the devil cant go, he sends a woman”, A second body turns up. Even with an authentic Polish feel it just wasn’t plausible to have the cops being Polish as well.

That Polish angle is intensified when Janusz returns to a Poland he had left twenty years earlier as part of his hunt for the missing woman. Poland under the Communists had created bad memories, and he was in no rush to leave his home near the then Arsenal stadium of Highbury and return to his past. It is at this point that the reader gets a sense of what the novelist Zygmunt Miłoszewski meant with his observation that “in this country, history is less of an academic topic and more of a national obsession, and this is extremely plain to see in the crime fiction.”

When a country has Auschwitz situated on its territory, the national obsession becomes admirable rather than treatable. 

The work alternates between the two main characters Janusz and Kershaw. Theirs is a relationship of convenience, pragmatism dictating it. The police thorn in the side of Kershaw is her superior - the unlikeable and rude Detective Sergeant "Streaky" Bacon. Something of the pig about the guy if we may pardon the pun.

Lipska might be a bit less sophisticated drawing the evidence together than a writer like Nesbo, but the reader suspects that will be refined with time. 

In the age of Brexit the richness of a community like the Poles could well be impoverished by the racist rich and there might yet be an exodus back to Poland, a lot of British citizens in tow. Tantalising, the thought what novels that might produce.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill. Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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