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Thriller Thursday – Budapest Noir

Budapest Noir by Vilmos Kondor

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


When “noir” is in title, I can’t help but have expectations. Dark story, surprising twists, thugs, a tough-talking detective smoking, and all the characters drinking like fish and smoking like chimneys. This mystery includes these attractions, but the investigative reporter protagonist is self-controlled, mordant, and a stereotypically Hungarian Gloomy Gus.  I felt this story was so-so — a good-enough representative of the “Europe between the wars” genre that has been so popularized by Alan Furst. But remember the dark plot clearly in a couple of months? I doubt it.

The main character is crime reporter Zsigmond Gordon. The authorities are trying to sweep a prostitute’s killing under the carpet, but Gordon becomes interested in the woman’s past, the events that lead up to her murder. The reason is that he saw nude photo of the woman in a drawer in a police official’s desk. In tracing the culprit in the backstreets of Budapest, the incautious Gordon soon finds himself to be the witch of interest in a witch hunt.

Set in October 1936, just after the sudden real-life death of Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös, the exposition hints at the coming menace. Jewish people are under increasing pressure. The communist and fascist powers are asserting power. Still, the focus is always on the woman’s death and the investigation and interviews. Budapest’s streets, squares and landmarks are mentioned by name, which will thrill people who have lived and visited that city. Having a Hungarian grandmother, I like the stereotypes: Hungarian women are beautiful; two Hungarians will hold and argue about three different opinions; and when Hungarians want you to try their wonderful cuisine, they stuff you with viands full of fat. And paprika.

The development of the main character Gordon takes precedence over the plot, even though he is a little more than a monochrome photograph. I liked the fact that the investigator had a job other than a PI or a homicide detective. Gordon is a macho man who maddeningly stubborn and pessimistic, but he’s smart and resourceful. And sly. Not to mention the kind of BF that says things like, “Please don’t be more angry than necessary.” Mercifully, there are some normal people, such as Krisztina, the graphic designer GF of Gordon, and the comic relief grandfather, Opa, a former doctor who spends his days making experimental jams and preserves.





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