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SIREN OF THE WATERS
(A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation)
By Michael Genelin
Soho Press, Inc. 2008 ($13.00)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
The Soho Crime imprint in recent years has published an increasing number of mid-list mystery and crime titles set in Europe bringing fresh settings and characters. SIREN OF THE WATERS is Soho Crime's latest entry and is set in post Soviet Union Europe. But one thing hasn't changed, Big Brother still exits. The result of generations living in a police state is a general disregard for the individual. Because Big Brother controls the destiny of all, the hope for a better life is only a bitter dream. At work most just go through the motions. The paradox: a government and social structure that professes to make men all the same and treated all the same, as an abstract unit (different than the West's idea of equality and an individual's inalienable rights as a human being) in practice fiercely pits man against man as enemies in pursuit of material gain. Coercion and corruption form the basis of relationships from the top to the lowest. It is in such a world police must work and officially "close" cases.
Jana is a senior commander in the Slovak police force. Unlike most of her colleagues, she solves crimes, not just closes cases. This does not necessarily make her popular with her superiors and colleagues. Her boss protects her the best he can. He went out on a limb to reinstate her after what should have ended Jana's professional career. Her husband Dano had threatened a State informant with her service revolver. Jana was immediately dropped one grade and transferred to the provinces because she had not secured her gun properly and the gun was used in a criminal act. But after a decent interval, her grade is restored and she is transferred back to the capital. Jana is what in the West we term the go-to person.
Jana finds herself at the scene of a traffic accident, something the criminal department is normally not informed about let alone called to attend by a senior commander. But Jana is called to the scene and is standing cursing the sub-zero cold.
The crashed Mercedes van ablaze, the absence of skid marks, and the number of bodies (seven) thrown about not an ordinary traffic accident. It doesn't take long for Jana to figure out why a senior commander in the criminal department - her - was called to this particular traffic accident. For one thing, the vehicle is still burning. Something other than the gasoline in the van's fuel tanks was used to deliberately torch the vehicle. Then there are the bodies. Six are prostitutes, all from different countries. The seventh is a man. Jana's boss tells her when she returns why she was sent to take over the crime scene. Human trafficking in the Western communities is currently high profile. The EU is already asking questions. She is to solve the case, not close it.
It's been awhile since I have come across a character that I have immediately taken to. The author Michael Genelin has created in Commander Jana Matinova the hope that justice will eventually prevail despite man's inhumanity to man. She has no false humility. Jana knows she is better than most of her police colleagues. Her fierce determination to solve crimes is not to advance her own career but for the dead. At one point in the investigation, Jana prays for the dead to ease their pain. For Jana the bodies are not dead - not while we can work for them.
While the main story is the investigation of human trafficking, the author explores the paths opened to the new generation growing up in post Communist Eastern Europe. Jana's daughter Katka must choose to serve the State like her mother, defy the State like her father, or flee to West.
This book, the first in the series of Commander Jana Matinova Investigations, captures the atmosphere of Eastern Europe and its struggle to determine its own destiny while joining the Western community. The prose is fast paced and the mystery a satisfying puzzle. I recommend this series for those who miss the Cold War espionage novels with such great characters like Alec Leamas and George Smiley by John LeClarre as well as Bernard Samson by Len Deighton.
The second book in the Commander Jana Matinova Invesitgation series is DARK DREAMS, by Michael Genelin, published in 2009 by Soho Press Inc. under the Soho Crime imprint. Excerpt from the dust jacket: "One night, Jana returns home to find an enormous diamond suspended from a string in her living room. A fabulous gift? Or, for a police officer a trap? ...The search for answers leads Jana across Europe to unravel an international criminal conspiracy that has perpetrated multiple murders in Nepal, India, Switzerland, Hungary, and Bratislava itself and threatens Jana's career, family and life."
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