I spent the majority of this book thinking “I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on, but I CAN’T BE SURE AND IT IS DRIVING ME TO DISTRACTION.”
Yeah. It’s like everything is a secret. Only one character has a name, you’re not told where the story is happening, you don’t know what’s being investigated, or on whose orders. Fortunately, my Melville House edition comes with a handy afterword by Tim Wilkinson, which answered some of my questions.
Of course, there is a distinct post-WWII Eastern European feel to everything, so you can make an educated guess or two.
At one point, the commissioner and his wife are telling each other an old folk tale. His wife recounts the version she was told. The commissioner shrugs, making it clear that he’s not convinced at the story’s accuracy. The wife asks:
“Well, wasn’t that what happened?”
“That is what they want us to believe, at any rate,” he responded.
That sense of foreboding permeates the entire novella. It’s certainly worth taking the time to slowly immerse yourself, as it does not unravel as you might expect.
Disclosure: Melville House sent me this book after participating in the Art of the Novella reading challenge.