Following our feature devoted to literary fiction, the best of 2016 series continues with a selection of genre fiction titles. One of the aims of CzechLit is to give exposure to this type of literature, which in the Czech Republic can no longer be dismissed as light reading. These days, Czech detective stories, sci-fi and noir attract literary scholars, critics and foreign publishers as well as readers. After our extensive look at new Czech authors of crime fiction, the following selection from 2016 is further proof of the high standard of Czech genre writing.
(Torst, 504 pages)
Karol Sidon, author and Chief Rabbi of Prague, writes under the pen-name Chaim Cigan, as we are now aware, although when he published the first part of his tetralogy Out in the Sticks (Kde lišky dávají dobrou noc), Altschul’s Method (Altschulova metoda), under this ambiguous pseudonym, almost the entire Czech Republic made a big adventure out of searching for the author, for at the time the book came as a revelation… Puzzle is the third part of the tetralogy, combining science-fiction elements, adventure, mystery, philosophy and humour. The heroes of the series are trying to understand the implications of an experiment which lead to time-travel, the creation of parallel worlds and an infinite number of human copies. Those responsible for the original phenomenal discovery are struggling to reverse the effects of scientific temptation which led them to irresponsibly use the discoveries of their unleashed intelligence. Sidon’s books have come out in Polish and Dutch. We believe this is a long-term sure-fire bet.
“Sidon remains a master of dialogue and depicting the tension between the conventional and the erotic.”
— Milan Ducháček, Respekt
“[…] a sci-fi page-turner full of humorous and erotic scenes, historical or Judaic digressions and realistic dialogue about what causes a person to make a free choice and what far-reaching consequences it can have in history.”
— Daniel Konrád, Hospodářské noviny
(Host, 380 pages)
Petra Stehlíková first self-published her books and has now been picked up by one of the largest publishing houses in the Czech Republic. From the outset her books have been successful among fantasy genre readers and young adults. After the Great War the world is divided into two parts, one is habitable and the other is contaminated by poisonous gases. The habitable half is protected by a shield that draws energy from a special mineral called glassite, but its excavation results in numerous disorders and deformities. Thirteen-year-old Ilan is one of the few to be born without any deformities. Since her childhood she has pretended to be a boy, so as not to be taken away from her family, and she hides under a habit with a mask that glass workers have to wear as a sign of subordination. Thanks to her ability to listen to glassite, she begins to learn glass polishing. She knows she has to hide her secret at any price from the twenty-five warrior foes who have enslaved her people, but she does not manage to hold her ground and slowly comes closer to these men and learns the truth that has been withheld from the glass workers for many years. The Listener is the first part of a planned series.
“[…] the author has created a fascinating story. The Listener is the bold equal of any foreign work.”
— Petra Machová, Dagon
“The world of listeners is definitely worth visiting, there is something special about this unique Czech dystopia.”
— Kateřina Stupková, Pevnost (June 2016)
It’s Not Over Yet
Ještě není konec
(Host, 288 pages)
A Czech detective novel starring the idiosyncratic Commissioner Marie Výrová, which the television serial Detectives from Holy Trinity (Detektivové od Nejsvětější Trojice) is based upon. Sýkora has already written two books with the same detectives, who are popular among readers and recognized by the critics. Regarding Sýkora’s previous novel, Blue Shadows (Modré stíny), Pavel Mandys wrote in Hospodářské noviny: “A plausible and non-trivial plot, with solid albeit sometimes exaggerated character details plus the art of keeping the reader in suspense.” The same goes for this novel.
It’s a hot August afternoon in 1987. The holidays are drawing to a close and twelve year old Hana Kolihová inadvertently witnesses a particularly brutal murder in her villa by the river on the outskirts of the city. The police catch the perpetrator remarkably quickly and nobody believes Hana’s claim that the murderer was in fact a strange green spirit, resembling the water-goblin from Karel Jaromír Erben’s collection of ballads, Kytice. This time, Police Commissioner Marie Výrová will be investigating a quarter-century old murder. After meeting Hana, who never recovered from the horrific experience, Výrová studies the case and realises that the investigators made a number of mistakes and that many of the inhabitants of the seemingly quiet villa may have had a motive and the opportunity to commit the shocking crime.
“A story that leads through a murder hunt down into the depths of human nature, enlivened by the author’s full-blooded writing, including some fine work with colloquial language. Michal Sýkora’s work is like Dylan’s albums Time Out of Mind and Tell Tale Signs, his Commissioner Výrová’s favourites – tranquil on the surface but dark and disorderly within.”
— Štěpán Kučera, Právo
Lightly Dressed Girls
(Paseka, 340 pages)
A murdered Vietnamese woman clad only in erotic lingerie is discovered in a private garden. The idiosyncratic police commissioner Holina, who sets as much store by his policeman’s intuition as the advice of his old flame Sabina, a psychologist and astrologer, tries to penetrate as deeply as possible into the circle of people surrounding the dead girl. However, Procházková never does anything just for effect; she uses the murder victim’s origins as the basis for a deeper probe into contemporary Czech society. What’s more, she knows how to depict believable characters that you can live with and sympathize with. Their inner life is just as important as the detective action. Lightly Dressed Girls once again features Major Holina from the Prague homicide division. This is the second part in a popular series which has been turned into a perhaps even more popular television series. The first part of Vraždy v kruhu [The Zodiac Murders], as the whole series is called, has already come out in Polish. Procházková’s work is regularly published in Germany and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She has won numerous awards – e.g. five Golden Ribbons and two Magnesia Literas in the category of books for children and young people as well as the most prestigious German award for writing for children, the Friedrich Gerstäcker Prize.
“The detailed psychological depiction of the characters coupled with the engaging description of the atmosphere of Prague in winter give added value to this proper detective story and make it well worth buying, especially if you have a preference for Czech detective stories and are tired of alcoholic loners from dysfunctional families who spend more time fighting their own demons than solving cases.”
— Richard Spitzer, Centrum detektivky
“In Lightly Dressed Girls, Procházková tells the story not only from the investigator’s point of view but also that of other characters, who she has managed to portray very convincingly, just as she has with the setting of the Vietnamese community and houses of ill repute.”
— Martin Stručovský, E15
The Noonday Witch
(Motto, 224 pages)
This is Březina’s second book about detective Tomáš Volf after Time-barred (Promlčení). The author won the best Czech detective novel award in 2013 for his debut On the Hill (Na kopci). A dead girl is found on a housing estate. It should have been a routine case for rookie Volf and his inexperienced partner. However, the murderer, nicknamed the Noonday Witch after the slavic mythical character, continues to haunt the apartment blocks, only striking in broad daylight. Detective Volf knows he has to do everything in his powers to succeed in his new role: deal with his stubborn partner as well as his superiors, survive the July heat and above all catch the murderer before another dead body hits the hot pavement.
“The Noonday Witch continues to set the bar high. Once again, this is a very well written detective story which will keep you gripped from the first page to the last.”
— Lukáš Loužický, Kultura21.cz
“The most striking part of The Noonday Witch is the finale, which is highly emotive and won’t leave the reader cold. This makes The Noonday Witch the best novel that Jiří Březina has written to date. If he continues in a similar vein, we truly have something to look forward to.”
— Martin Stručovský, E15
Children of Anger
(Host, 287 pages)
Rywiková builds on the success of her 2013 debut, which was well received by readers and critics. In it she also transported the reader to the outskirts of town, to a dilapidated building hidden somewhere within a former industrial complex in northern Silesia. This detective story described the fates of four neighbours who commit a crime while pursuing what seems to be the simplest path in life; its social dimension was obvious. It is the description of economically deprived and marginalized locations that is Rywiková’s strong suit, and the author demonstrates this in Children of Anger too. Although the first clues in the police investigation into a murder point almost without fail to a local oddball, the investigators gradually begin to untangle a complex web involving people from very different walks of life. On the one hand there is the modern “elite” represented by a local entrepreneur and a female politician, and on the other the gambler Pavel with his sister and father. The story is enriched by a narrative thread which goes back to pre-war times and not only reveals the background to the detective plot but also how easily a person can fall victim to anger, historical events and forgotten miscarriages of justice. It becomes apparent that there is much more connecting the characters than it first appeared.
“The style and social setting of Nela Rywiková’s dark and harsh detective novel […] resembles Scandinavian crime fiction. The author is from Ostrava and knows the environment she is describing well.”
— Alena Slezáková, MF Dnes
“Nela Rywiková is proving to be one of the most interesting new names in the resurgent genre of Czech crime fiction. She has a wonderful ability to incorporate the genius loci of her home town into her work, not only in the form of apposite descriptions of the setting but also in the way she organically links together different social groups.”
— Pavel Mandys, iLiteratura
Pavel Mandys (ed.)
(Paseka, 304 pages)
Prague Noir contains short stories by fourteen leading Czech authors, exploring the many forms of Prague crimes, mysteries and secrets, continuing the rich tradition of detective and mystery fiction with Prague motifs. The result is a unique and stylistically varied collection of stories by well-known Czech authors as well as rising stars. The book is also an unusual guide to traditional and lesser-known Prague sights. Visit Charles Bridge with Miloš Urban, explore the mysterious world of the Jewish ghetto with Petr Stančík, read Petra Soukupová’s account of an unexplained disappearance in Stromovka park or follow Kateřina Tučková’s investigation into the dark past of an old house on the bank of the Vltava river. This volume, edited by literary critic Pavel Mandys, will be published in English in 2017 by the New York-based Akashic Books as part of their prestigious Noir series.
“Prague Noir is a success. Due to its variety and the way it plays with the genre the anthology will appeal to a wide range of readers. The book is also tangible proof that Czech authors are able to construct a good story and fulfil genre expectations.”
— Martin Stručovský, E15
“[Prague Noir] offers an excellent cross-section of, and introduction to, contemporary Czech writers.”
— Jarda Konáš, Aktuálně.cz
Cover image: A detail from the cover of Puzzle by Chaim Cigan