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Detective Story
By Imre Kertész, Knopf; $21
Kertész began writing novels 33 years ago, when he was well into his forties, though his work was seldom translated from Hungarian into English before he won the Nobel Prize in 2002. This novella, the confession of a former interrogator and torturer in an unnamed South American country, is the first one by the Auschwitz survivor that doesn’t address the Holocaust. In fact, when it was published, in 1977, it must have been startlingly current, as Argentina’s “disappeared” were only just beginning to attract attention. But it’s a timeless, placeless parable, in which a force the narrator simply calls “the logic” supplants all law, reason, and moral conscience. Does former investigator Antonio Martens, who probably faces execution, truly feel remorse over the murder of an innocent businessman and his son—a crime that likely led to the overthrow of his bosses? It doesn’t really matter, because there is no motive, no “why” in his story; “the logic” devours everything in this chilling procedural of moral degradation.
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