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Published by Head of Zeus, 2 November 2017. ISBN: 978-1-786692702 (HB)
This first in a new series features Balthazar Kovacs
who is both a policeman in Budapest’s murder squad and also a Roma gypsy. His
fellow policemen distrust him because he is a gypsy and his fellow-Roma, even
his family, distrust him because he is a policeman. At the time the story is
set, Hungary, like much else of Europe, is finding it difficult to cope with
the crowds of refugees from Syria and elsewhere flooding into the country from
Serbia but unable to get out of Hungary because Austria has closed its borders.
As a result, huge numbers of refugees are camping outside Keleti Railway
Station in Budapest in chaotic and unsanitary conditions, hoping that the
trains will start running again. One unwelcome consequence of this is that
racial tensions between the Hungarian population and the refugees are growing;
there has already been some violence towards the refugees and it is all too
reminiscent of the part played by Hungary in the wartime deportation of Jews and
gypsies to the Nazi death camps.
has been sent on his mobile a photograph of an apparently dead man in another
Budapest square but when he gets there the body has disappeared although he
does find a SIM card which he takes. Just as a young gypsy boy is telling him
that the body has been taken away in a van the Gendarmerie appear (a fictitious
recreation of the original wartime Gendarmerie which had organised the wartime deportations)
and threaten Balthazar. Balthazar’s boss, Sandor Takacz, tells him officially
to stay off the case which is now the responsibility of the Gendarmerie while
at the same tipping him the wink that if he wants to investigate on his own
account that’s his affair. He also shows Balthazar an article written by
Balthazar’s former girlfriend, journalist Eniko Szalay, describing how false
passports are being issued to some migrants describing them as Roma; under the
Schengen rules all EU citizens are allowed free passage to a number of EU
countries. Meanwhile, a civil servant from the Ministry of Justice, Akos Feher,
has been summoned to the British Embassy to meet with one of their staff,
Celeste Johnson (clearly an MI6 operative) who tells him that not only are some
of the passports of alleged Hungarian citizens clearly fakes but that some of
the passport holders may well be jihadi terrorists. In fact Feher is deeply
involved in the fake passports corruption and there is evidence substantiating
this. But the web of corruption stretches higher . . . to the Minister of
Justice, the glamorous Reka Bardossy, even to Reka’s occasional lover, Pal
Palkovics, the Prime Minister. And some mysterious money men make it plain to
Palkovics that if he doesn’t deal with Balthazar, Reka and anyone else who
stumbles into this web, it will be the worse for him.
is an intricately-written story which combines convincing fictitious characters
with a fascinating (if somewhat depressing) picture of present-day Hungary.
Reviewer: Radmila May
was born in London in 1961. He is a British author, novelist and journalist. is
a veteran foreign correspondent who has covered Hungary and eastern Europe
since 1990. He is the author of thirteen books, including Hitler's Secret
Bankers, which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. He writes for the Economist,
Financial Times and Monocle. He divides his time between Budapest
born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven
years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice.
Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional
work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of
her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published
late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal
flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a
third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology –
and is now concentrating on her own writing.