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The Warsaw Voice » Society » January 13, 2010
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Clerics and Killers
January 13, 2010   
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Writer Mariusz Czubaj, whose book 21:37 was named the best Polish crime novel of 2009 at last fall's International Crime Fiction Festival in the southwestern city of Wrocław, talks to Dominik Skurzak.

Your novel 21:37 is set in a seminary. Why did you choose such a location?
The book begins when the bodies of two young men are found on the banks of the Vistula river in Warsaw. They later turn out to be two young seminarians. They have been tortured and then suffocated by having plastic bags placed over their heads. There were a few clues on the bags, including the numbers 21 and 37. That's when profiler Rudolf Heinz joins the investigation.

A profiler is someone who builds up a psychological profile of a serial criminal. Isn't that a bit of an Americanism though? We don't have too many serial killers over here.
We've had a few serial killers in Poland. There are always a few lurking about from what I hear.
I wanted to create a cop with an unusual line of work-at least by Polish standards.

Being something of an expert, the profiler is not limited to his own patch. That's why Heinz can lead an investigation in Warsaw, even though he lives in Katowice.

The extent to which the main character adopts the attributes of the author is a question that always crops up. To what extent is that true in this case?
Heinz is a typical cop who's been around the block a few times. He has a crazy streak and there's something in his past we don't know about. He often resorts to methods his superiors don't approve of. I wouldn't necessarily like to be that sort of character, although I did give him a few of my traits. Heinz likes rock, plays guitar in a blues band and practices traditional karate. But he has his quirks too.

For example?
He always introduces himself with "The name's Heinz. Like the ketchup."
21:37 was the time Pope John Paul II died. Weren't you worried that your novel, which deals with the secrets of a seminary, would be taken as an anticlerical book?
I have no control over what people read into a novel. Obviously, there are allusions to scandals in the church, including in Poland, in 21:37. However, my main aim was to portray a cloistered environment, run according to its own rules, and to show what can happen when such a community is not subject to any external controls.

You started out with Aleja samobójców (Boulevard of Suicides), a novel you wrote with Marek Krajewski. You created the character of Commissioner Pater. You returned with the same hero when you wrote Róże cmentarne (Cemetery Roses). Are you planning another book together?
We both have our own solo plans at the moment. I'm writing another book featuring Heinz, which is the next part of my "Polish psychopath" series. We've given Commissioner Pater a vacation.

Mariusz Czubajis a cultural anthropologist as well as crime fiction writer and journalist. His publications include Biodra Elvisa Presleya (Elvis Pelvis), Krwawa setka. 100 najważniejszych powie¶ci kryminalnych (The Top 100 Crime Novels) (with Wojciech J. Burszta), Aleja samobójców and Róże cmentarne (both with Marek Krajewski) as well as 21:37. Martwy punkt (Deadlock), the next novel to feature Rudolf Heinz, is in preparation.
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