Michael Genelin has a sort of good news/bad news situation in that his books are set in Slovakia, an area in central Europe that used to be Czechoslovakia. It is bad news because most Americans know little about Slovakia so it is difficult to place one’s self in the scene. The good news is that the author is presenting a country that we know little about so we don’t question the atmosphere.
Czechoslovakia was created on political lines during World War I, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918. With the rise of the Third Reich, Czechoslovakia was divided into pieces, all of which ended as the part of Europe Hitler would use in his plan to defeat the USSR and expand Germany’s “lebensraum”, more territory in which the Germans could live and grow food. At the end of the war, the area came under the influence of communist Russia and the citizens remained something of a thorn in the side to their Russian guardians.
That is until “Prague Spring” in 1968. Alexander Dubcek became the leader of the Czechoslovakian in January, 1968. He was a liberal and he believed that the majority of the people would follow him. He loosened restrictions on the media, and on speech and travel. His chief goal was to decentralize of the government and the economy. He oversaw the division of the country into the Czech and Slovak states but by August, 1968, the Soviets had had enough and came into Prague in tanks. One hundred and eight Czechs and Slovaks were killed and the move to less restriction ended.
On January 1, 1993 the country peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This very much abbreviated history explains in some small way who Commander Jana Matinova is. She is one of the highest ranking female officers in the Slovak state police. She is grandmother to a child who is half American, a child Jana sees rarely. The author hasn’t given any substantive hints as to Jana’s age but she was likely too young to participate in Prague Spring. She is certainly a product of the changes it brought to Slovakia. No longer a Communist country, the people are still reminded of their history. It seems that no country in on the European continent has yet been able to escape from the years when Hitler dominated the lives of all.
To a degree, not understanding Jana’s past and the growing pains of her country, the reader benefits. The reader can concentrate on Jana. Slovakia is a country that is still trying to find its feet and one of the issues is the Roma population, a group that has never been welcomed in any nation. A young gypsy is killed and this becomes a case that Jana knows will be difficult. The Roma have no reason to trust the police and their culture is secretive.
In Paris, an old man is working through the Saturday outdoor market. “The old man never saw the truck that hit him….Pascal was killed on impact….The truck proved to be stolen, so the police could not find anyone to hold responsible…and Pascal had three separate sets of ID on his person, which made things even more troubling for them. After all, how can you notify the decedent’s next of kin, or even his landlord, if you don’t know who he was or where he lived?”
Jana finds herself forced to go to a party being given by “one of the new breed of businessmen that the country was hell-bent on developing: high profile figures who wanted to be international players and were determined that everybody should love and admire them for their ruthless corporate plundering. So far, at least, tonight’s businessman, the larger-than-life Oto Bogan, had miraculously avoided criminal prosecution and so was still on the ‘we can associate with him’ list for police officers.” That status changes when the party is barely underway. While standing with Jana, her boss, Colonel Trokan, and her husband, Klara Bogan is shot, hit by a bullet likely meant for her husband.
The murders are linked when Jana learns that Pascal had a tattoo linking him to the Hlinka Guard, a group who, under the direction of the SS, led the roundups of the partisans, the Jews and the gypsies. They Guard killed without question when ordered to do so by the SS. Into this mix comes Em, a young teenager who meets Jana when she sells her a pair of earrings.
Eventually all the various threads come together and there are no degrees of separation. The plot is complicated and Jana is a complicated character. She is mistress of her own destiny in her work life but there seems to be few boundaries in her personal life. Her relationship with Em is difficult to explain given Jana’s commitment to her job.
REQUIEM FOR A GYPSY is the fourth book in the Jana Matinova series. I don’t think it is necessary to read them in order but read them you should.
The author hasn’t given any substantive hints as to Jana’s age but she was likely too young to participate in Prague Spring but she is certainly a product of the changes it brought to Slovakia. No longer a Communist country, the people are still reminded of their history. It seems that no country in on the European continent has yet been able to escape from the years when Hitler dominated the lives of all.