Following Poland’s entry into the EU in 2004 there was a rapid influx of Polish migrants into the UK. Although London had long been a centre for the Polish diaspora, most notably following regime changes after the Second World War and during the early 1980s, the influx in the last decade created a new set of tensions within the community. Where the Devil Can’t Go is a crime novel that embraces these various periods of the Polish diaspora and provides an excellent thriller set in the hear of the migrant community.
Janusz Kiszka has lived in London since the 1980s and after a series of construction jobs now works as a general fixer, sorting out matters on behalf of his Polish friends. He has been successful enough to buy a flat in the once down-at-heel Highbury Fields, in a building now shared with young professionals. He is asked by a priest, Father Piotr Pietruzki, to find Weronika, a respectable young Polish girl who may have disappeared with her boyfriend Pawel Adamski.
Meanwhile, DC Natalie Kershaw investigates the death of a woman pulled out of the Thames, possibly from a drugs overdose. When a second body appears and both girls are linked to the Polish community, Janusz is investigated as a possible suspect. Janusz’s mistrust of the police means he refuses to hand over vital information and he continues on his hunt for the missing girl. This quest takes him to the seedier parts of London and on to Poland where he is followed and attacked. It is only by joining forces and pooling their collective information do Janusz and Natalie finally put together the pieces of a complex case.
The main strength of this book was the depiction of the Polish community in London. In the course of the narrative, Lipska takes you from the East End Olympic construction site, with its steamy cafes doling out familiar dishes to homesick Poles, to Embassy receptions where former communists and exiled aristocrats rub shoulders. Janusz’s journey back to Poland is fascinating, seen through the eyes of someone who has been living outside the country for over twenty years. His feelings of homesickness and dislocation are very powerful. There is also a strong sense of Polish history interwoven into the book. Janusz was originally involved in the Solidarity movement but is bitter about its legacy and the motives of the people involved.
The investigation involving DC Natalie Kershaw was nicely done, particularly the relationship with her unreconstructed male superior, DS Bacon. Lipska portrays well the calls on police time and resources which means that even murder cases have to be prioritised. My only complaint is that the switch between Janusz and Kershaw narratives didn’t always take place between chapters or even scenes but this may have been a fault of the way my kindle copy was formatted.
I thought this was an excellent début novel and well deserves to be read in print as well as an e-book. There was a freshness to the writing and the depiction of the community was fascinating, including some interesting insights into the workings of Polish Catholicism. Hopefully we will be seeing more of Jasnusz and Kershaw in future books.
The author’s website is here.