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Detective Story. Imre Kertsz Paperback – January 1, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At the start of this subtle look at the price of the war on terror from Hungarian author Kertész (Liquidation), Antonio Martens, a policeman in an unnamed Latin American country, awaits trial for multiple counts of murder after the regime that employed him was toppled. Martens tells how he was transferred from the criminal investigative branch of the police to the Corps, a security unit, where, unfettered by any meaningful restraints, he pursued the case of Federigo and Enrique Salinas, a father and son who operated the country's leading department store chain and were suspected of plotting treason. Kertész, who won the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature, charts Martens's incremental descent into barbarism to chilling effect. This relevant and timely political allegory will remind many of J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"A dark, disturbing novel, from a writer with a profound understanding of a dictatorship's inner workings" The Times "A sophisticated and brilliant dissection of nihilistic power" Times Literary Supplement "A powerful and troubling new novella" Daily Mail "Genuinely haunting and lyrical... memorable and thought-provoking" New Statesman "A suspenceful, bleak comic parable" Observer

Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books USA (January 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099523396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099523390
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,593,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

IMRE KERTÉSZ was born in Budapest in 1929. At age fifteen he was deported to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald, and finally to a subcamp at Zeitz, to labor in a factory where Nazi scientists were trying to convert coal into motor fuel. Upon liberation in 1945 he worked as a journalist before being fired for not adhering to the Communist party doctrine. After a brief service in the Hungarian Army, he devoted himself to writing, although as a dissident he was forced to live under Spartan circumstances. Nonetheless he stayed in Hungary after the failed 1956 uprising, continuing to write plays and fiction in near-anonymity and supporting himself by translating from the German writers such as Joseph Roth, Freud, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein. He remained little-known until 1975, when he published his first book, Fatelesseness, a novel about a teenage boy sent to a concentration camp. It became the first book of a trilogy that eventually included The Failure and Kaddish for an Unborn Child. Subsequent titles include Liquidation, The Pathseeker, Union Jack, and, a memoir, The File on K. In 2002, Kertész was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He lives in Budapest and Berlin.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In a dispassionate retelling of his participation of the torture and death of a father and son, Federigo and Enrique Salinas, following a junta in an unnamed South American country in the 1970s, Antonio Martens relates his story while waiting for execution. Using the diary of one of the victims, Enrique, that Antonio has conscripted for his own use, Martens is chillingly objective. Federigo and Enrique Salinas first come to the attention of the secret police while they are monitoring civilians for information about a planned atrocity. Recognizing that some form of rebellion will simmer among the people, it is imperative to quell any suspicious activities for the good of the country.

Enrique is young and in love, chaffing at the recent political events and his beloved's acquiescence to their country's changed circumstances. He longs for the passion of resistance, for meaning in his life, although he is shunned by the true revolutionaries as bourgeoisie. To offer his son some protection from the inevitable dangers of his impulsiveness, Federigo draws Enrique into an innocent plan that inevitably results in both their deaths. Guilt or innocence is not at issue, as clearly the Salinas' are no threat to the government; but they become pawns, the focus and example of repression in the face of rebellion. Father and son fall helplessly into the jaws of a soulless bureaucracy with a point to make.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
at its critical turning points there is no other rule possible than the old one, that the end justifies the means."

from Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

"Detective Story", Hungarian Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertesz's novella is set in a prison in an unnamed South American country. An oppressive regime has just been overturned and the protagonist, former secret police detective Antonio Martens, is sitting in prison after a trial and conviction for the unlawful arrest, torture, and execution of Enrique Salinas and his father Federigo. The story plays out in the form of a prison memoir written by Martens that lays out the series of events that bought Martens and the Salinas family together in a deadly way. Martens' memoir also incorporates excerpts from a diary that had been kept by Enrique and `purchased' by Martens from the regime. Enrique's memoir serves as a counterpoint to Martens' memoir and the reader is able to get a pretty thorough look into the lives of Martens and Enrique. In concept and structure the book bears some resemblance to Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon". However, the book is more notable for its dissimilarity to Darkness at Noon than for its similarity.

In "Darkness at Noon" the prisoner Rubashov was a leader of the revolution and an active participant in the oppression and purges that eventually swept him up. In "Detective Story" Martens is no more than a bit player, a willing participant but not a leader. There is no irony in Martens' being called to account. There is nothing in his account that marks him as an intellectual, a leader, or anything other than a pawn. His participation is not that as a creator of an evil system but that of a cork that is swept along by the tide of repression.
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Format: Hardcover
Fate declared that Imre Kertesz's life, or at least his writing, would be entirely shaped by his teenage experiences as a Hungarian Jew in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Rather than `fate', perhaps one should refer to the "barbaric arbitrariness of history" (the phrase used by the Nobel Prize for Literature committee in 2002). His other works available in English, 'Fateless', 'Liquidation', and 'Kaddish for an Unborn Child' reflect his past more directly than `Detective Story'.

Nonetheless, `Detective Story' explores the ability of humans to utterly degrade themselves and others particularly in the service of modern bureaucratic societies. When the liberal democracy in an unidentified Latin American country is overthrown and replaced by a dictatorship, the secret police spy on suspected dissidents, then arrest, torture, and execute them.

Kertesz tells his story retrospectively through the voice of Antonio Martens, a regular cop turned secret police torturer, who now finds himself in his own cell awaiting punishment after the dictatorship has been turned out. Martens reconstructs the case of a prominent father and son Federigo and Enrique Salinas using his memory of the police interrogations and Enrique's own diary. The secret police, the Corps, pursues them and observing their suspicious behavior, arrests Enrique. Federigo then falls into their lap like overripe fruit. While their end seems foreordained, Kertesz throws in an unsettling twist that seems to demand a different outcome. The ultimate fate of the Salinas demonstrates the pointless barbarity and capriciousness of police operating outside the restraints of the rule of legitimate law.

Originally written in 1977 and only just published in English in 2008, Kertesz's short but profound work bears obvious relevance to the dangers unleashed when state authority escapes the bounds of legal and moral restraint. Highly recommended.
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