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Detective Story    by Imre Kertész order for
Detective Story
by Imre Kertész
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2008 (2008)

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* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

In Detective Story, a slender but profound novel, Hungarian author Imre Kertész explores the complicated intersection of governmental power and individual freedoms, a theme that is becoming increasingly important in a post-9/11 world. The Swedish Academy, upon awarding Kertész the Nobel Prize in Literature, said the following: 'In his writing {he} explores the possibility of continuing to live and think as an individual in an era in which the subjection of human beings to social forces has become increasingly complete ... {He} upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history.'

Written as a confessional memoir of sorts, the 128 page Detective Story features narrator Antonio Martens, a former police detective who had been most recently working for a special investigative branch of the government in an unspecified Latin American country. He is now sitting in a prison cell - having been convicted of crimes by the country's new regime - and he sets about telling his story of the Salinas Case.

Federico and Enrique Salinas, father and son, as individuals and co-conspirators, were relentlessly pursued by the cynical and obsessive Martens and his close associates because of alleged crimes against the state. Eventually arrested, convicted, and eliminated, Federico and Salinas are portrayed in Detective Story through their own words in the form of poignant diary entries and perfectly logical responses during baffling interrogations. And the chillingly amoral detective, in a prison-cell declaration that seems simultaneously boastful and apologetic, adds his special version of what had transpired in the Salinas Case.

As a thoughtful meditation on the dangers of political correctness and a government's powers (as well as the pernicious complicity of those who either acquiesce to or perpetuate those powers), Detective Story is something like a 21st century blending of Orwell's 1984 and a surreal horror story - or 'pulp fiction come true' according to the detective's attorney - with the elder and younger Salinas becoming the representative stand-ins for decent, thoughtful people everywhere. As a disturbing, cautionary tale of betrayals, passions, boundaries, and transgressions - either real or imagined - Detective Story is a terrifying Kafkaesque story of freedom and justice subverted by complicity and malevolence.

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