In the almost brilliant conclusion of his ambitious Eastern European series (Liberation Movements, 2006, etc.), Steinhauer focuses on what happens to moral codes in a collapsing country.
It’s a tumultuous period. To Emil Brod, Chief of the People’s Militia in his hard-pressed (unnamed) little country, it’s as if “time was snapping in half.” With the economy in shambles, rations and tempers are growing short, and the long-ruling Pankov government is in much more trouble than it thinks. Brod—met first as an idealistic 22-year-old cop at the onset of his career—is now 63, about to retire, and glad of it. He works his cases, yes, but that’s because he’s a man to whom persistence has always amounted to a matter of honor. In company with almost everyone around him, however—in particular his tough-minded, sharply observant wife—he senses that the center will not hold, and that a flight plan might be advisable. At this point, almost by accident, he comes upon certain unsettling information: a list, six names, among them his. Two of those named have already been killed in circumstances undeniably suspicious, and there’s every reason to believe that the power behind the deaths is highly placed and highly motivated. Brod looks for a common thread and finds it. Forty years ago, he helped jail Jerzy Michalec, a Nazi war criminal. All the people on the list were involved to some degree too. For his own sake, and for the sake of those he cares deeply about, Brod must now figure out why they’ve suddenly become targets. He needs answers, and he gets them—but by the time he does, he’s no longer quite the good man he was.
A Kafka-like evocation that loses some of its chill when the research begins to show. Still, the first 200 pages are masterful.