Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin (written in English).
This novel is set in Slovakia, both in the present (post-Communist) day and, in flashback, during the Communist era. The two regimes do not seem very different from the perspective of the protagonist, Commander Jana Matinova. Jana is a strong woman who has carved herself an impressive career in the police force, despite political forces and corruption all around her. She’s a very sensible woman who has a sixth sense for trouble and who gets along well with her immediate boss, Colonel Trokan.
The story opens with a horrific car accident in which several women and a man, presumed the driver, die. In view of the sheer number of fatalities and the continuing firebomb that was the vehicle, the emergency rescue team cannot take the (usual) easy way out for them and write it off as an accident, so they call in the police – Jana and her lazy warrant officer, Seges. The two police officers rapidly confirm that the crash was indeed not an accident, discovering that the male victim has two passports in different nationalities and different names, and that the female victims are probably prostitutes, possibly being transported across borders in an international trafficking ring. Barely have Jana and Seges had time to catch their breath when the body of an older woman is found in the river – again, murdered, and again, implicated in the sex trade.
Jana vigorously carries out her investigation, rescuing and looking after two sad, blind cats in the process. As the action proceeds, she reflects on how she misses her estranged daughter, Katka, who is married and living in Nice, and who has just had a baby daughter. Jana remembers her first meeting with Dano, a handsome and very promising actor. Their courtship and marriage was initially ecstatically happy, but soon the horrible apparatus of the Communist state destroys their relationship and forces Jana to make choices between her career (and hence her ability to support her aging mother and young daughter) and her love for Dano.
Returning to the present, after a brief and violent interlude in Kiev, Jana is sent to a UN conference in Strasbourg in which the problem of the international sex trade is to be addressed. Here is where the book slightly disappoints: it shifts from primarily being an investigation into the crimes in the opening chapters, to becoming a thriller in the Evelyn Anthony mould in which various delegates and others are killed while Jana, with the Russian delegate, Levitin, chase around Europe tracking down who is responsible. Levitin, it turns out, is looking for his long-lost sister Sasha, who has been a drug addict and sold into prostitution. Somewhat improbably, Jana’s and Levitin’s family, and Moira Simmons, the erratic chairperson of the UN conference who has previously called on Jana for help, are all tied together in the criminal network that has “the Siren of the Waters” at its heart.
The main weakness of this novel is that the characters, with the exception of Jana, are not three-dimensional. At the end, when the crime is solved and a somewhat abrupt ending to Jana’s domestic problems occurs, it is hard to feel involved in either outcome. I was also slightly disappointed that the acerbic relationship between Jana and her lazy subordinate Segre was not better developed. However, there are plenty of strengths in this book – the interplay of the police colleagues and the stories of daily life in Slovakia are fascinating, and I am sure that any future installments will be able to build on this promising start – particularly if they stick to local crimes and the strong character of Jana, and keep away from the international crime-ring element.