Detective Story by Imre Kertesz is a very short book of 118 pages. I read it in one sitting on the train home. It is an easy book to read. The story is about how a secret policeman destroys a family. The setting is in a nameless country in Latin America. The secret policeman is recounting what happened. He simply asks for some paper and a book and begins recounting his experience as it happened in a cold hearted way.
The beauty of this book is how mundane sounding the secret police operative makes his terrifying and immoral actions seem. For him, it was all in a days work. He had been recruited from being an ordinary policeman for a position with higher pay and prestige and he took it. Antonio Martens, the torturer, recognizes the regimes attempt to brainwash him and simply does not care.
The story is about how even attempting to avoid becoming involved with the secret police can lead to capture and interrogation. Federigo Salinas is trying to trick his son into not joining the resistance. Enrique has became a target because of his anger at the constant police presence and the closing of the university.
It is the machinations of the state telling Enrique to not pay attention which capture him. He drives too slowly past the prison and is cited by a police officer for slow driving, you must drive past such places at least 50 miles per hour. I found this idea fascinating. Also, Enrique is photographed trying to join the resistance, but he is rejected. He is unfit to be a rebel.
The Salinas are necessary parts of the industry of running a country. They own a supermarket chain which feeds people. Thus, if they do nothing, they will be ignored. However, because they pay attention, they become targets.
There are hints that the Salinas disappearance is a major cause of the fall of the colonel who took over the country. The military colonel is like many military people who take over countries, ambiguous at first. We do not read much about who the colonel is. He is just there.
The description of the torturers is interesting. As one torturers comments, he thinks they are just part of the brotherhood of police everywhere whose job it is to keep order. The difference as they comment is that their first job is not to keep order for everyone, but instead for the people at the top.
This is a very insightful piece of fiction. I enjoyed reading it. It said many interesting things about what it meant to live inside a police state. It is very to the point and does not skip over the darker nature of human beings. However, it is not about the mind of a monster the way we have been condition to think of it. This person is not Frankenstein.
It is the picture of a manipulative hollow soul without remorse or pity. The kind of person who is not purposefully evil but seems to possess no soul and is capable of anything. He is describing the faceless person who might be a bureaucrat who orders the supplies to build a concentration camp. The kind of evil that is mundane, a black hole of emptiness, and sucks the life out of everything near it.
The author, Imre Kertesz is a winner of the nobel prize for literature. He also is a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.