Published in 1978, this pocket sized book was in my parent’s collection. Looking to clean up their bookcases, I had a read to decide if it’s a keeper or a burn-pile candidate. Set in the lovely Romanian county of Bucuresti in the height of its post-bellic boom, the story follows the investigative trail that the militia had to go through in order to solve a most interesting murder.
I was surprised by two things in this book. The story was actually really well written, with twists and turns and well rounded characters. And what really shocked me (shock is a strong word) was how well the era was described. You didn’t have to know it was written under Ceausescu. He was never mentioned. But some of the reactions of the public when threatened to be taken to the militia headquarters do ring a bell. None of the witnesses were very keen to working with the police. (Mostly because from what I remember they used to beat their suspects within an inch of their life).
The Militia in this book is filled with competent and smart people. The main investigator is very handsome and we’re told so on many occasions. He does approach the leading ladies in this book but there is no romance. All strictly professional and upstanding. It’s like an ideal militian man was thought of and then put on paper without having such a person actually alive.
It starts off well, with a woman called Lidia who is an English teacher dating a low life called Dinu.
He blew off his inheritance on a lavish lifestyle and mistaking Lidia as the heiress of a wealthy family, he seduces her only to be disappointed to find out she’s only a “nanny” (his words. she’s actually the daughter’s private tutor).
Dinu does not want to commit to the relationship and does not like Lidia’s adoring eyes. Just about when he’s about to dump her and search for one of those lovely “foreigner” women who visit Bucuresti in hopes of seeing how life under a dictatorship looks like, Lidia mentions something interesting.
A jewelry case containing her mistress’ most valuables got stolen but the mistress never reported the theft. Dinu starts thinking and sees that maybe there were more things in the jewelry box than just some rings and necklaces. And he was right! After impersonating the militia and threatening the former servant girl with “headquarter interrogation”, the girl sobs and gives him the box. Dinu then finds a hidden drawer filled with love letters of Lidia’s mistress flirting with a man and planning to meet up around the same dates her husband died in a tragic mountain accident.
He decides to go and make some money by becoming what he knows best – a blackmailer. Unfortunately for him, the woman’s lover, now close friend, throws him out. But then he asks him to meet in private and tries to offer him a lower amount than what was requested in exchange for the box.
Fun part starts now. The lover dies shortly after Dinu’s visit, making him prime suspect. In his attempt to escape the militia who came looking for him, he escapes through the windows but then slides and falls to his death.
Lidia is heartbroken and now a suspected accomplice. She manages to remove all doubt and this is when the super handsome militia commander starts his super efficient and extremely smart investigation.
***** SPOILER *****
Lidia’s mistress, the widow, is visited to find out why Dinu was trying to blackmail her and she’s all cool and aloof and effusing with money.
But her sculptor hands gave her away as her pieces were telling the truth. A turned statue with a face showing agony and a scream.
What really happened was that she caught her husband getting rich from performing illegal abortions. Not only that, he was cheating on her with one of his assistants and he got her pregnant. Not only that, he killed said assistant when she wanted to keep the baby by dropping her in the sea knowing that she couldn’t swim. Everything was witnessed by the girl’s brother who blackmailed the doctor and got himself and his mother a lovely apartment in a good area and a stipend.
In order to stop the blackmail, the mistress and her husband fake the latter’s death in the Alps by pushing a conveniently present look-alike hiker into a chasm and taking his things. Of course, the convenience does not end here as no-one from the hiking party recognised the doctor in the other guy’s clothes. Nor did the other poor soul who died in this way had any relatives that would ask for him.
Well, the husband in the Austrian disguise, missed his wife so he went to see her only to find her in her lover’s arms. Filled with rage, he killed her lover, declared his undying love for her and asked her to help him escape. She hid him in one of her holiday homes in Snagov (she was rich as homes there are super expensive) and was waiting for the investigation to die down.
What tipped the super handsome policeman was the fact that a robber saw someone in the holiday home in the same week as the investigation, and was caught in the act! And the case officer for the robber knew the super handsome policeman. And the tip was nothing more than the name of the woman who had the house and that when asked if anything went missing, she said no, but didn’t check the attic.
The super handsome policeman goes to talk to the widow again but conveniently he is attacked by her “dead” husband and all comes to light. He kills the husband and tells the injured woman that she needs to forget the past.
Hmmm… cheesy. It did keep me entertained for the better part of a flight but I was expecting a
different better ending.
Book was left in a charity shop.