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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Nobelist's view of State-driven crime
We segue into governmental oppression with Imre Kertész's Detective Story. Imre Kertész is, of course, a Nobelist. He is also an emigre Hungarian author (having been based in Berlin for decades), which is why this book strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. To explain: he sets the novel in an unnamed Latin American police state where the internal security...
Published on 27 Jun. 2009 by Feanor

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3.0 out of 5 stars Bleak
Detective Story is a short novel but it feels longer. Most of the novel is a first person narrative told by Antonio Martens, a policeman of an unspecified Latin American regime of his role in in the arrest, interrogation and execution of Federico and Enrique Salinas, a middle class father and son. The narrative is interspersed with excerpts from Enrique Salinas's...
Published on 26 Dec. 2012 by MisterHobgoblin


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Nobelist's view of State-driven crime, 27 Jun. 2009
By 
Feanor (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Detective Story (Paperback)
We segue into governmental oppression with Imre Kertész's Detective Story. Imre Kertész is, of course, a Nobelist. He is also an emigre Hungarian author (having been based in Berlin for decades), which is why this book strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. To explain: he sets the novel in an unnamed Latin American police state where the internal security apparatus wields its power of arrest and terror with impunity. To my mind, he is excoriating the arbitrariness of dictatorial power, and his book would make as much sense in Mexico as in Hungary - so why did he not just base it on his homeland? For some reason, he preferred to report on the action at a remove, through the confession of Martens, a man who was once an enforcer (and police spy) for the previous regime. Now that that regime has been overthrown, and its apparatchiks are in prison, Martens awaits the kind of tortured death that he indirectly laid upon innocents in his youth. In any country, especially in one that is as insecure as Martens, there will always be scapegoats for perceived or imagined political threats. Surveillance and arbitrary arrest and torture is a logical concomitant. The torture can be physical as well as psychological; Martens explains how his organisation systematically destroyed an innocent father and a son. After all, even the most innocuous cannot be ignored, for the slightest threat is a danger to an absolutist regime, and every operative can hide behind the excuse of merely following orders. Detective Story is spare prose at its best, a small book concentrated in its chilling horror.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Politics can be relatively fair in the breathing spaces of history, 30 Jan. 2008
By 
Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Virginia Beach, Virginia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Detective Story (Hardcover)
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. To that extent he comes closer to representing Hannah Arendt's vision of the banality of evil than that of Rubashov. As a result, Martens' memoir is noted more for what it does not say than what it actually says. Where Rubashov was insightful and painfully aware of the circumstances that brought him to his cell, Martens is content with a straightforward narrative of events. But although his narrative is almost devoid of emotion it is that very absence that makes the story so chilling. Kertesz does not hit your over the head with the horror of the story but, rather, hits you over the head with the absence of horror in the retelling.

Similarly, the diary excerpts of Enrique Salinas shows us another cork swept along by the tide, this time the tide of unrest and opposition to the regime. Enrique's diary is full of angst and emotion but it is the emotion of a naïve youth, one who struggles for love and desires nothing more than the acceptance from his fellow college students who oppose the regime. He rails against those that do not accept him because he is from a rich family. Yet, he too has no more control over his fate than Martens has (or at least so he claims in the memoir). As the story plays itself out we see certain inevitability, the coincidences of two pawns crossing each others path in a way that neither could predict. To that extent I think Kertesz may owe more to Kafka than Koestler.

Kertesz' work has won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. His earlier works (earlier in the sense of publication in English) Fatelessness, Kaddish for an Unborn Child, and Liquidation are thoughtful and compelling. I've read those books and I think my enjoyment of Detective Story was enhanced because I had read them. However, this novella stands on its own and I recommend it heartily to readers whether or not they have read any other Kertesz. L. Fleisig
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3.0 out of 5 stars Bleak, 26 Dec. 2012
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MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Detective Story (Paperback)
Detective Story is a short novel but it feels longer. Most of the novel is a first person narrative told by Antonio Martens, a policeman of an unspecified Latin American regime of his role in in the arrest, interrogation and execution of Federico and Enrique Salinas, a middle class father and son. The narrative is interspersed with excerpts from Enrique Salinas's diary.

Keretsz portrays Martens as a journeyman. There is no glee at his ability to torture or make suspects beg. There is little or no description of graphic scenes. They are simply procedural details, carried out behind closed doors. Martens appears to believe he is simply a regular policeman, doing his best to keep order in a society containing chaotic elements. There is the odd hint at justification - that where there is a conflict between upholding the law or upholding the leadership, then the leadership should prevail. And when it becomes clear that the Salinases are not engaged in subversion (or are they?) Martens's instinct is that they should be released. However, he doesn't protest when his superiors decide that crimes have been committed and the Salinases should be tried with inevitable consequence.So we see that oppression is dished out without sadism, without enthusiasm just because it is a job to be done. Records are kept and much of the work of a torturer seems to be paperwork.

Where Detective Story is less successful is that it is dull. Martens and his colleagues are necessarily boring. That's the point. And the Salinases have no real life outside the need to be tortured and executed. There is a minimal backstory but it is so skeletal that one is not able to identify with them or believe in them as people. The result is 112 pages of navel gazing when very little actually happens. This may well be what policing is like in despotic countries. Keretsz would clearly have the reader making an extrapolation from Martens to the Nazi prison camps in which he suffered. But it doesn't make for terribly interesting reading. Meanwhile, Enrique's diaries are really dull. They are supposed to offer some kind of external point of view to allow Martens to narrate scenes at which he wasn't present. But in doing this they are heavy handed. Worse was their apparent use as filler to pad out a novella that would otherwise have been too short, spacing it out with the same kind of cod philosophising about power and oppression that seems to obsess Martens himself.

There is something worthy in Detective Story, and parts of it are well written. But as a whole, it drags on and doesn't feel like it adds anything new to the canon.
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Detective Story
Detective Story by Imre Kertész (Paperback - 1 Jan. 2009)
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