Death Can’t Take a Joke

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Death Cant Take A JokeWritten by Anya Lipska — Act I, Scene 1 – Canary Wharf, a prime business district which has been redeveloped from the decaying former docklands of East London. A young policewoman is trying to enjoy an over-priced latte. There is a strange birdlike flurry of movement in her peripheral vision, followed by a massive thump. A moment’s silence. Then, terrified screaming. A body has plummeted from above, its fall only broken by a parked car.

Act 1, Scene 2 – In the outlying East London district of Walthamstow, Janusz Kiszka is scratching out a living as a private investigator. The ex-pat Pole is irritated when his best mate, an English ex-serviceman, fails to turn up for a scheduled pint. He won’t be turning up any time soon, either. The man has been stabbed to death, literally on his own doorstep.

So like all good crime novels, we start with a dead body. In this case, two. The stabbed man is Jim Fulford, a former soldier who runs a gym and has married into the Polish community. The apparent suicide? Well, no-one knows. After an exhaustive, exhausting and ultimately futile canvassing of all the occupants of the tower block, DC Natalie Kershaw is none the wiser about the identity of her dead man. Her only clue is a zloty – a Polish coin – found in the gutter near the spot where the jumper had his fall abruptly terminated by the roof of a dark executive limousine.

Kiszka is devastated when he hears the news of his friend’s death, but at the request of Fulford’s distraught wife he goes to the mortuary to identify the body. Because he is known to the police for an earlier encounter with a drugs gang, Kiszka is asked for his whereabouts at the time of the murder. His alibi doesn’t check out, and he is arrested on suspicion of murdering Fulford for financial reasons. However, the police soon realise that they have the wrong man, and the investigation widens to embrace an exotic Ukrainian prostitute, a crooked Romanian businessman, human trafficking, arms smuggled into Syria, and the apparent suicide of a notorious paedophile who escaped jail on a legal technicality.

We first met Janusz Kiszka and Natalie Kershaw in 2011 in Lipska’s debut novel Where The Devil Can’t Go, and the author spoke to us about herself and her work in this interview. Her latest book has been published by The Friday Project which is an experimental imprint of Harper Collins, and looks to develop a strong focus on digital promotion and publishing. It is a cracking novel which more than fulfills the promise of the previous book. Lipska is an adopted daughter of Walthamstow, and her love of the area, and her affinity with its ambiance shines out strongly in her writing, as does her comfortable but unintrusive knowledge of Polish culture. I normally hate it when a writer, trying to establish the foreign credentials of a character, throws in the intermittent ‘Mon Dieu, ma cherie’, or even ‘Dinnae bother, ye ken’ in order to create authenticity. But here, Lipska peppers the dialogue with Polish oaths and vernacular and it actually works. So, Kurwa Mac to that!

This is a seriously good book. It is brilliantly plotted, and Lipska keeps her powder dry by saving all her reveals until the last few pages. There are surprises and twists to satisfy even the most jaded of palates, and the author never loses touch with the honest plodding routine of the local police, despite the reckless behaviour of Kiszka – who might be described as a latter-day Philip Marlowe in an ex-army greatcoat.

The Friday Project

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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