There can never be enough crime fiction sitting on my shelves for my liking - it's what I turn to again and again when I can't decide what I want to read. I'm nearly always in the mood for a mystery. So it's always nice to discover a new series that I can start from the beginning and watch the characters develop over time. Recently I've been enjoying the first two installments of Anya Lipska's London-based series and getting to know Kiszka and Kershaw.
Janusz Kiszka is one of the most well-connected individuals in London's Polish community - he knows everybody's business and there's not much that slips under his radar. He dabbles in building projects and business deals here and there, but also engages in a little private investigative work when it suits him. In Where The Devil Can't Go, Kiszka is approached by his priest to track down a missing young waitress. Over the course of his investigation he crosses paths with Natalie Kershaw, a young detective constable who is looking into the case of a Jane Doe washed up on the banks of the Thames. Each is as stubborn as the other, and the pair find themselves at loggerheads as they try not to admit that a little teamwork might be just what's needed to get to the bottom of both of their problems.
In Death Can't Take A Joke, Kiszka happens across DC Kershaw again, in a more professional capacity this time. She is investigating the case of an unidentified Polish man who has jumped from a central London tower block and needs Kiszka's unique insight into the community. Janusz is reluctant to take on the task as he is otherwise occupied with digging up dirt on a nasty Ukrainian gangster who he suspects has murdered one of his closest friends. But he ultimately relents, and the two end up travelling to Poland together to uncover the answers they both need.
Janusz Kiszka is a really great protagonist and lends these books a great depth. It is refreshing to encounter such a complex character in a police procedural rather than your average world-weary middle-aged constable. He is a man of many contradictions - a burly brute, and an impressive scientific intellect. He is charming and chivalrous, yet holds very old-fashioned views and can be really quite dismissive of women. He has strong ties to the Catholic church, and nevertheless behaves in a manner that is contrary to any moral code you could imagine.
Kershaw, on the other hand, is a little less memorable. It is interesting to consider the difficulty that a young woman must face having to work in such a male-dominated environment as the Metropolitan Police, and the professional dilemmas that arise when one's boss is a misogynistic pig, but I found it difficult to truly care about her relationship difficulties or her wistful childhood memories. I definitely found her character to develop over the two books, though, and have faith that it will continue to do so as the series progresses.
Lipska's novels are fast-paced and tightly plotted, and kept me on my toes at all times. I was totally gripped. What I really loved was the insight she provides into the immigrant experience in the UK. It was particularly interesting to read about the factors that have driven people to leave their homes, the countries they love, and seek a new life elsewhere. For someone like myself who was born in the late 1980s it is easy to forget just how much the political landscape of Eastern Europe has been transformed in very recent history. It isn't something that I was ever taught in history lessons at school and so I only had a vague awareness of these events on the fringes of my consciousness. It was enlightening to read about Kiszka's experiences in the Solidarity movement and the difficult choices he had to make on behalf of his country.
I'm looking forward to reading more from Anya Lipska, and I can see that this series has the potential to become a real favourite of mine.
Many thanks to the publishers, Harper Collins UK, for providing copies of both of these books for review via Netgalley.