The Novel That Was a Key to Solving a Polish Murder Mystery

Bala had since moved abroad, and could not be easily reached, but as Wroblewski checked into his background he discovered that he had recently published a novel called “Amok.” Wroblewski obtained a copy, which had on the cover a surreal image of a goat—an ancient symbol of the Devil. Like the works of the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, the book is sadistic, pornographic, and creepy. The main character, who narrates the story, is a bored Polish intellectual who, when not musing about philosophy, is drinking and having sex with women.

Wroblewski, who read mostly history books, was shocked by the novel’s contents, which were not only decadent but vehemently anti-Church. He made note of the fact that the narrator murders a female lover for no reason (“What had come over me? What the hell did I do?”) and conceals the act so well that he is never caught. Wroblewski was struck, in particular, by the killer’s method: “I tightened the noose around her neck.” Wroblewski then noticed something else: the killer’s name is Chris, the English version of the author’s first name. It was also the name that Krystian Bala had posted on the Internet auction site. Wroblewski began to read the book more closely—a hardened cop turned literary detective.

— This recently unlocked New Yorker story comes recommended by Eva Holland, a writer based in Whitehorse, Yukon who writes:

David Grann’s “True Crime,” is a strange story of a Polish detective who becomes fixated on a disturbing, provocative, postmodern novel that may be the key to a brutal unsolved murder. The story is fascinating and layered, and I’m guessing I’m not the only ex-liberal arts student who will find aspects of the main suspect’s character uncomfortably familiar.

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