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District VIII by Adam LeBor. Book Review

November 8, 2017

District VIII book cover

Budapest is a difficult place to be a policeman. A job made all the more challenging if you are, like Balthazar Kovacs, from the Roma community.

When Balthazar receives an anonymous text message concerning a man lying in Republic Square he goes to investigate. But when he gets there the body is gone and Balthazar has only the word of a child that it was removed in an unmarked van. So begins an investigation which leads Balthazar into a complex world of corruption in a city riddled with political intrigue and ruthless criminals.

As a Roma cop, Balthazar belongs to neither one world, nor the other. Although he maintains his links through his brother Gaspar who is now the head of the family Balthazar has become alienated from by his choice to become a policeman. He is a very moral man, but still slips in and out of the Roma community, courtesy of his brother and other Romas who have a soft spot for Balthazar despite his career choice. This means he is able to investigate in areas other policemen cannot, and adds an extra layer to the story.

Eniko Szalay, a journalist with whom Balthazar’s has a past, also becomes involved in the investigation. She is the kind of reporter who is interested in information of high-level people trafficking which involves genuine Hungarian passports and is prepared to keep digging despite the dangers involved. The people being given these passports are those who threaten the safety of not just Hungary but the whole world.

So, District VIII is no ordinary detective novel, but one which weaves in Balthazar’s double life as policeman and Roma as well as the convoluted politics of Hungary as Balthazar and Eniko tread their perilous way through the potentially explosive and dangerous political society of Budapest where few can be trusted and many are using the system to their own ends.

While providing an engaging and thrilling read, District VIII is also a fascinating alternative travel guide of a city with a complex and harrowing history, which has become a hub for those seeking sanctuary in the West.

District VIII was courtesy of Head of Zeus via NetGalley.

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