It’s 1948, and Emil Brod, newly graduated from the police academy at 22, is posted as a homicide cop to the People’s Militia—a department that’s as dysfunctional as pretty much everything else in Emil’s unnamed little war-torn country. Vanquished and vanished are the despised Germans, leaving behind them, however, “a nation of cripples.” Still, young Emil, whose idealism remains surprisingly intact despite deprivation and occasional bouts of despair, is excited as he reports for work on that first day. He looks forward to the job, seeing in it a longed-for opportunity to serve community and country. Unfortunately, the good feeling is transitory. Not only is the department a grim, grungy, seemingly purposeless place, but there’s an almost palpable animosity directed at Emil in particular. For reasons he can’t grasp, he’s an alien presence regarded with icy stares. When he finally gets an assignment, it’s a high-profile case no one else wants since it’s so clearly a potential career-breaker. A popular, politically connected songwriter has been murdered, face and skull crushed with a wrench, apartment ransacked. Burglars? Emil soon decides against this obvious scenario in favor of something darker and more complex. In the days that follow, he collects the answers to a variety of gnarly questions—the reason he was consigned to solitary; the truth behind a desperate and shameful conspiracy; and some useful things about his own untapped, unexpected capacity for courage, loyalty, and love.
Time, place, and cast are all richly evoked in a well-written, often gripping debut.