March 5, 2013


by Anya Lipska
423 Pages, The Friday Project

Review by: J. S. Colley

I received a free ebook version for review purposes.

Next to a great piece of literary fiction, there’s nothing like a good thriller, and Where the Devil Can’t Go is certainly that. Taut and unpredictable, it’s a great read. From what I understand, it’s the first in a series featuring the two main protagonists: Detective Constable Natalie Kerksaw and “Janusz Kiszka, unofficial fixer to East London’s Polish community.”

Janusz is asked by his parish priest to find a missing girl, who—like so many other Poles—came to London’s East Side to find work. But it isn’t as simple as that. Janusz soon finds himself in the middle of something much larger than coaxing a runaway back to the protective arms of her London caretaker.

We meet DC Kerksaw when she is called to investigate a “floater” found in the Thames River with an amateurish tattoo on her lower back and, soon after, another death, this time with evidence pointing directly at Janusz. 

I pride myself on the fact I can usually figure out the ending of a book or movie fairly quickly. But, whenever I thought I had this plot summed up, the author fooled me. That’s a good thing.

Lipska is a master at characterization. The story is told through the viewpoints of Kerksaw and Janusz and, with each alternating chapter, I could feel the shift in mood and tone—the “emotional resonance” (if I can borrow a phrase from another reviewer) generated by the two individual characters. The support characters are given the same attention to detail, and you can almost reach out and touch them. Good stuff.

As I’ve said many times before, the best kind of fiction is one that teaches the reader some truths while weaving the fantasy. Lipska manages to teach us a little about Polish history and gives us a glimpse of life in modern-day Poland and also the Polish community in London. I live in an area housing the largest population of Poles in the United States, and also have a few Polish in-laws, so I can relate to much of it—including the many references to the cuisine. (Janusz, for all his rough edges, is a bit of a culinary.)

Lipska also manages to teach us a few Polish words and the proper pronunciation of the often difficult-to-pronounce surnames without it being the least bit tedious. And, without getting too preachy, she reveals how many Poles felt living under Komunistow rule, yet she also speaks of the difficulties realized in the shift from socialism to capitalism.

Half a million Poles managed to carve a living here, but born and bred Londoner Steve could never find work. It was too easy to get by on benefit in this country, he reflected, not for the first time.”

“…is awash with oil and gas profits—and all that cash needs a home…perhaps you’ll come round to it when you see Poland’s GDP go through the roof in five years’ time.”

 Is there any one perfect political/economic structure? This is my question, not Lipska’s.

The political stuff aside, or because of it, Where the Devil Can't Go is a great thriller with non-stop action, lots of OMG! moments, and memorable characters—ones I’m eager to visit again.

Let me go on to say that if you are an American reader, the use of British slang might trip you up at times, but there weren’t that many instances, and the terms really weren’t hard to figure out. I thought of it as a bonus—it gave me a chance to learn some new lingo in case I ever visit the UK. One thing I learned is “nick” can mean: police station, prison, or to arrest. Go figure.

Another thing, and I don’t know if this is because I received a review copy, but, at times, a blank space between paragraphs could have been used to reflect a change in viewpoint when both Kershaw and Janusz were in the same scenes together. Again, a very minor point, as I was quickly able to realize whose head I was in, but a blank space would have made it more readily apparent.

Now, I’m going to add something that might be considered a spoiler. I don’t really think so, but stop reading now if you haven’t read the book yet. I’ll end this part of the review by saying I highly recommend it.

While I found the ending satisfying and believable, if the final consequences would have occurred a year later, instead of four weeks, I think I would have found it more realistic. I really don’t know why, other than I think it would have taken time to orchestrate. It is a very subjective observation and a minor “nit” (as the British would say) to an overall great book, and one that didn’t spoil my pleasure in reading it.

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