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Karolina and the Torn Curtain

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This is a detective novel set in late 19th Century Poland, featuring a socialite with a penchant for gossip, Zofia, as the detective, and her trusted ( and very intrepid ) cook as her assistant. Sofia's beloved maid has been murdered, and Zofia will not rest till her killer is brought to justice. The setting is very well-evoked, and the language flows very smoothly, this is a masterful translation. The fascinating part about this book is the very unique context. Zofia leads a comfortable life as the wife of a professor, seemingly unchanged from her mother's before her. That curtain of appearances, though, hides a far more complicated reality. The end of the 19th century saw a world in turmoil. Poland was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and that was crumbling, with corruption being rife throughout the chain of command. Echoing the adage of politics being personal , the social order was being upended, The workers of the world were uniting, women were being educated, and horror of horrors, universal suffrage was being seen as a right. All these circumstances are more than enough to make a delicately reared professors wife clutch her pearls in horror! Zofia, however, for all her prejudices given the society she belonged to, is not an unsympathetic protagonist. The tone of the book, firstly, is deeply feminist. Also, unlike most detective fiction, where the detective is omniscient and righteous, Zofia almost always leaps to the wrong conclusions, and it's interesting to see her assumptions being dismantled. She might assume something based on her narrow and parochial view of the world, but someone, usually from a different sphere of life, quickly disabused her of those notions. She's always willing to change her mind,though, when confronted with facts, and her sheltered, conservative upbringing and lack of exposure never blind her to her ignorance. Unlike her husband the scientist , who ironically never makes an attempt to change, and isn't receptive to new ideas. Through her investigations, Zofia encounters several fascinating characters, including some real life ones, and by the end of the book she's a lot more aware of how politics affects people, and she's a lot more empathetic. Her investigations are hugely helped by Francizka, her cook and confidant, who, unlike usual sidekicks, is responsible for uncovering most of the major revelations that help them solve the case. The title is the theme of the book- the curtain of appearances over the 19th Century was tearing- not just affecting the characters of this book, but on the centuries old Austro-Hungarian Empire. The 20th Century with all its upheavals was waiting, to rip it completely apart. 
#KarolinaandtheTornCurtain #NetGalley
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I read the first in the series last year with interest, as this is a fascinating time (late 1800s Cracow, Poland) that I know very little about. I thought the first book was a fair starting point for a new series, I wasn't sure if I would continue. I was therefore very pleased when I started the Netgalley digital arc and saw that the authors were doing something much more interesting with this book in the series- they are taking our protagonist, the difficult, haughty, social-climbing professor's wife, Zofia Turbotyńska, and dropping her into situations that test her understanding of the world. 

In this installment, number 2 of the series, we open with her main goes missing and is found murdered. She is called in as the woman's employer and immediately wants to find out what happened to her.  The hunt takes her into parts of Cracow that she had only heard rumors of and has her confronting some of her own assumptions along the way.  

Zofia's character is a perfect foil for us to see how challenging some of the new push for women's rights were at the time. She is particularly irritated at the appearance of young women at the university, even though she herself is smart and would have benefitted from formal education. So it's fun to watch her eyes slowly open to the harsh realities and challenges that face some women as her investigation has her looking into prostitution and human trafficking. 

I was quite amused and pleased by this installment of the series and it has piqued my interest in reading further as the authors' works in the series are translated into English.

I would like to thank the publishers for access to the e-galley in return for an impartial review.
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Poland, police-corruption, political-corruption, 1890s, murder, murder-investigation, amateur-sleuth, women-sleuths, trafficking, historical-research, historical-fiction, cultural-exploration*****

Set in Poland at about the time when some of my grandparents left and came to a Polish enclave in Wisconsin, the names and speech patterns are only too familiar. Many thanks to Antonia Lloyd-Jones for her translation of this fun mystery. I also thought it a marvelous thing to "see" Crakow as it once was instead of the disaster left by the last world war.
Zofia is a rather snobbish wife of a professor who has a quick wit and an investigative bent. When one of her maids is found to have been murdered, her investigation (AKA snooping) brings her to the world of involuntary trafficking (which has yet to be eradicated in today's world). The main characters are perfect foils and the humor keeps the reality at a distance. Well done and even more enjoyable when the names are familiar in our area!
I highly recommend this book and plan to buy a print copy for my local library (and nag my Cleveland kid to do the same).
I requested and received a free temporary ebook copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books via NetGalley. Thank you!
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I am not sure how I feel about this book.  It is an interesting glimpse of old Cracow and its elite then.  But it' meanders a lot (took me a long time to finish this) and the "detective" Zofia, a matron married to a respectable professor of the university, did not really endear herself to me.  She is a lady long set in her ways, but her investigation does open her eyes a bit.  And yet she revels in being a wife/housewife, does not believe that women should be educated (as it may ruin her chances of a good marriage), and is traditional in almost every sense.  And yet she goes out to investigate, hiding such from her husband.  She is a product of her time, I understand but sometimes it's hard to swallow.  As is the beliefs espoused by most of the men in this book.    

It's only at  the epilogue where we see Zofia becoming more critical, the torn curtain I suppose.  So there is hope for her growth.

Is this a second book in a series?   Because it talks to Zofia solving a mystery also before.  Oh well, it took nothing away from this.  

Thanks NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the advance copy of the book.
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I can’t figure out how I missed the first book in this series, because this series is so exactly my sort of thing – a well-written historical mystery in a slightly unusual (to me, at least) setting:  Cracow in the waning years of the 19th century.    In the 1890s, Cracow was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, albeit with a fair amount of autonomy, which included maintaining its own universities.   And in this time and place, Zofia Turbotynska is the intelligent wife of a medical professor at Cracow’s ancient and respected Jagiellonian University.  

Intelligent enough, in fact, that she isn’t convinced that the killer of her recently murdered maid, Karolina, is actually the man who was shot to death while trying to evade capture.    Was that man really the “newly graduated engineer” who had recently been courting Karolina – or just a convenient scapegoat?   What about Karolina’s long-term sort-of boyfriend – might he have been involved?   Or the cadets who had been partying a bit more than they should, just before discovering Karolina’s body in the river?   

So when Zofia’s other maid, Franciszka, sees the supposed dead man in town, looking very much alive, Zofia and Franciszka start investigating.   Along the way, they confront a few stereotypes, meet a professor with an interesting research specialty, do a bit of jostling for social position, talk with local authorities about some of the latest developments in forensics (!!!), visit with Karolina’s mother, learn a bit more about brothels and the sex trade than a pair of respectable women should know, make plum jam, and eventually figure out who really did it.  And then of course, Zofia’s sharp elbows prod the authorities to do something about it – all while keeping her husband, Ignacy, in the dark about what she has been up to.      

I found Karolina and the Torn Curtain to be a wonderful read – mostly quick and fun, but with some serious moments that made me think.   These serious moments also made Zofia think and grow, and I look forward to seeing how she develops in later books.  As an aside, I loved the little quotes at the beginnings of the chapters, and had fun seeing them “come true” in some unexpected ways.   The historical note at the end of the book provided some nice background, and also got me curious enough to do some googling about Cracow and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on my own.   I now plan on going back to read the first book, and also will be eagerly waiting (hoping) for the next two books, currently available in Polish, to be translated into English.   And finally, my thanks to Mariner Books and NetGalley for the advance review copy!
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I really enjoyed the first book in this series and was really looking forward to this one. In my experience, finding a good mystery in translation can be difficult and that makes finding this series even better. Well-written, with great characters and some seriously funny dialogue and thought-processes [some of the exchanges between the MC and her maid are just priceless], this is a series that I truly hope to see continue, as I will be first in line to be able to continue to read them. Very well done. 

**Kudos to Antonia Lloyd-Jones who is the amazing translator of these books; she does an excellent job and really makes these book so readable in English. VERY. WELL. DONE.
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Karolina and the Torn Curtain is the second book in a historical cozy series by Maryla Szymiczkowa. Originally published in Polish in 2015 this English translation was released 23rd March 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their Mariner Books imprint. It's 416 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a capably written historical cozy with beautifully believable characters and sublimely delivered lightly humorous pitch perfect dialogue. The translation work is seamless; it didn't feel translated to me. The disparate plot threads wind ever more closely and the denouement and resolution are clever and very well engineered. The entire read is finely rendered and surprising. I didn't manage to figure everything out despite being given all the information along the way. I'm impressed and will be looking forward to more from this pseudonymous author pair.

Four and a half stars. I would recommend this one unhesitatingly to readers of historical cozies featuring academic types, light humor, and smart female protagonists. Although the time period is completely different, and in this case the protagonist is the professor's wife and not the professor herself, this book reminds me in a lot of nice ways of Amanda Cross' Kate Fansler novels. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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I picked this one up because it sounded like something I was in the mood for and because I saw Olga Tokarczuk's praise of it, but then only realised it was book two. It was great that you could read it without reading the first books, so if you are hesitant regarding this aspect, don't be. Read it. It reads just like any other mystery, and you won't feel like you're missing out on something. 

I loved the different, authentic writing style and how the paragraphs started off. To be quite honest, I was a bit put off in the beginning, because it's not the most welcoming writing style. I was a bit confused and bored, but I pushed through it and quickly found my pace. 

I think this is going to be perfect for any mystery lover, but who needs something different from their mystery. Who needs something a bit different from what they have read before. I definitely think it's not a book for everyone, because of the style its written in.
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Karolina and the Torn Curtain by Maryla Szymiczkowa is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early March.

Originally published in Polish in 2015, its chapter headers are written the style of a saucy David Copperfield, but the prose is laden heavy with contextual description, formal conversations, and frequent moues of impropriety if talk turns even slightly askew. I think that's what makes Zofia's curiosity and easy informality during her investigations that much more refreshing.
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Karolina and the Torn Curtain is the second book in this series. It is a light and easy cozy mystery read that can be read as a standalone.

I haven't read the first book yet had no problem getting into the story and familiarizing myself with the characters.

I like that there is a certain humor throughout the book which gives it a nice touch.

It gives a very good commentary on social, political, cultural and historical circumstances of the late 1800's in Poland. While I usually appreciate such comments as they help me to become better informed of the situation surrounding a story this time I felt it was more about social situation than the mystery.

I also found the language a bit stilted and old fashion, and while I expected it due to the historical aspect it was not as easy to read.
The story wasn't fluid it constantly jumped from one thing to the other.

The mystery was good, well established with several twists and turns to keep things interesting.
Characters are very realistic and believable and well drown out.
For those who like slow moving historical mysteries with lots of additional commentary this would be a good choice.
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Zofia Turbotyńska is pulled into another investigation when her maid Karolina is murdered after abruptly leaving Zofia's employment. Zofia and her husband Ignacy are both upset, as they liked Karolina, while Francziska, their cook, lost a friend.
The lead investigator appears less zealous at carrying out the investigation than what Zofia thinks Karolina deserved, and really, Zofia just can’t help herself from asking questions. She keeps talking to people, looking for clues and reasons, insistent on finding Karolina’s murderer.
Franciszka is roped into the efforts, and we see Zofia bolstered by Franciska’s determination to do right by her friend. Zofia also has the support of the investigator, Klossowitz, who pooh-poohed Zofia's abilities and her tenaciousness at finding information (in the previous book).

This book was more fun than the first one. The first book spent a lot of time giving us a lot of background on Zofia: her concern for her husband's position at his university, their family's position in Kraków society, and Zofia's inability to keep a maid for any length of time. (This reminds me of 80s tv character Murphy Brown’s constantly changing personal assistants.)
In this installment, the authors open up Zofia's world, and her eyes, to some of the inequalities and problems in Kraków. What starts as a "simple" murder, becomes much more complicated and ugly, as Zofia talks to socialists (whom Ignacy detests, and before her investigation Zofia appears to, equally), brothel owners, criminals, and a doctor conducting sex research. 
The case shakes Zofia's assumptions about the institutions she respects to the core, which was a really interesting turn to take with someone who has been status-obsessed and prickly about her privileges. I also liked the irony of how despite her denigration of women's education, Zofia is realizing that just minding her house is not enough for her, and delving into the puzzle of Karolina's death has given her something vital to do that captures her interest.
I picked up book one on a whim when it came out, and ended up really enjoying my time with Zofia. I really enjoyed this book, too, and look forward to more evolution and adventure for the determined Zofia Turbotyńska.
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It might take you, like me, a bit to settle into this unusual import from Poland but give it a chance.  Set in 1895 Cracow, its the tale of how Zofia, a wealthy woman, sets off to find out who killed her housemaid Karolina and left her on a riverbank.  Well, former housemaid because the young woman, who Zofia thought was virtuous, had just resigned, which deeply annoys Zofia.  She enlists her maid Francisczka to help her more or less troll the city for information about a man who seemed to be courting Karolina.  Not certain that the police found the true villain, she keeps up her quest, entering places where "respectable" women aren't usually found. The knowledge she gains begins to change her mind and shape her thoughts about the men she knows and about what women are due.  That sounds lofty but Zofia is not- she's a character with a quick wit, a bit of a snob, and a smart cookie.  There evidently was a book that preceded this, which I missed, so it was a standalone for me and just fine at that.  The language feels a bit ornate in spots but it has a rhythm that you can settle into.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Not a cozy but a historical mystery featuring a dynamic female protagonist in a setting that was new to me - a treat.
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I already liked the first book in this series, but I think the second book is even better.

This book is more focused than the previous one on solving the mystery. In the first book, the daily life of the main character, Zofia Turbotyńska, and scenes from Cracow at the end of the 19th century, constituted a much larger part of the book. And although I find these inserts from everyday life interesting, such a balance between these two aspects works better for me. I also think that such a solution will be better suited to international readers who do not know the history and culture of Poland so well.

In this book, Turbotyńska is a bit different than in the previous one, and I think I like her more this way. There is of course no obvious inconsistency between her character in the two books, I just think she evolves as a character. In this book, we clearly see how her priorities and views change, and how her character traits that have so far been obscured by some others come forward. And the events in the epilogue may indicate that her views and character will undergo further changes. Uncompromising and inquisitive, not to say meddlesome, Turbotyńska is a memorable character who can be liked.

The mystery is also much bigger and more serious than in the first book. It turns out quite quickly that the case that Zofia became interested in may be related to organized crime and at the international level. The whole mystery is complicated, with several twists and very satisfying. Turbotyńska takes us on a journey through the nineteenth century lupanars, although this is certainly not a magical journey, but rather revealing the difficult fate of women in those times throughout Europe. In many ways, the story is quite dark.

I have also read the original Polish version of this book and I think the translation is done really well. But what else would you expect from the two professional translators who are the authors of this book (though the book was translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and not one of the authors). The language perfectly reflects the slightly lyrical and sometimes certainly ironic tone that this story has in Polish.

This is a book for everyone who likes amateur sleuths and historical mysteries. The more unique that the action is set on Polish lands in the Austrian partition, which many readers know very little about. However, this story touches on the subject of prostituting women and their abuse. These are not drastic scenes of violence, but if you are particularly sensitive to these subjects, this may not be the book for you.
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It’s been three years since Zofia Turbotyńska solved her first case (see Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing). Since then, Zofia has settled back into domestic life. She still keeps up appearances between the great and the good of Kraków and trying to get her absent-minded professor of a husband a promotion at the university. That case is a real feather in Zofia’s cap, one that she’s not afraid to point out whenever relevant. Given her willingness to talk about her skills as a detective, it’s no surprise that she metaphorically elbows police and investigators out of the way when one of her maids is discovered dead at the beginning of Maryla Szymiczkowa’s* Karolina and the Torn Curtain. Antonia Lloyd-Jones does a beautiful job of translating this new entry in the series.

Karolina Szulc only recently handed in her notice at Peacock House when Zofia receives news that she has been found stabbed to death in an unsavory neighborhood. As soon as she learns about the murder, Zofia and her senior maid, the faithful Franciszka, leap into action. Franciszka searches Karolina’s old room while Zofia starts calling in markers at the local police station. It isn’t long before Zofia starts to put the pieces together—especially when the pair uncover information about a handsome man who made Karolina promises that were too good to be true.

The arc of a mystery plot usually follows a slow upward trajectory that starts to leap the closer we get to the big conclusion. The plot of Karolina and the Torn Curtain races at the beginning, before slowing down after an apparent suspect is cornered and shot by police. Zofia has doubts that grow the more she thinks about them. While the police are satisfied that they got the right guy, Zofia continues to ask questions. These questions take her into dangerous territory; she might be on the tracks of a large criminal conspiracy.

Early in Karolina and the Torn Curtain, Zofia has a brief discussion with a Mrs. Bujwid, a reformer who wants to help women and girls get an education. Zofia is initially annoyed by Mrs. Bujwid. She thinks the woman is reaching beyond her station and social status is very important to Zofia. (The third-person narrator frequently points this snobbery out for comic effect.) That conversation makes Zofia—and us, as readers—start to pay a lot more attention to the conversations of the men around her. These men are usually colleagues of her professor husband, so their discussions often include ludicrous “reasons” why women shouldn’t have more rights or more education. Zofia’s growing awareness of the discrimination around her and her increasing knowledge of the world of prostitution and trafficking in Kraków affect her. She becomes much less likely to assume that the authorities and her social betters have everything under control as the façade fades away.

Like Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing, Karolina and the Torn Curtain offers a vivid look into life at the end of the nineteenth century in Kraków. Zofia’s powers of observation take in faces, clothing, sounds, and smells as she whisks back and forth across the city, from posh addresses to neighborhoods well-bred women shouldn’t even know about. This book is historical fiction at its best.
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Zofia Turbotyńska’s maid, Karolina, has gone missing, leaving the house short-staffed in the midst of Easter preparations. Zofia hears the news a body of a murdered woman has been found washed up from the Vistula River and soon discovers the victim to be the same maid who has disappeared. Zofia is shocked and horrified and immediately starts to investigate on her own and soon finds herself in the underbelly of Crakow society, quite far from her own high social standing as the wife of a university professor. 

This murder mystery is a bit of Agatha Christie, a bit of cozy mystery, a bit of detective story, and quite a lot of history. The setting is 1895 Crakow, Poland, with a background of human trafficking of young women. The very patriarchal society of the time is reflected but the main character of Zofia delves into this territory and privately marks a way towards some women's rights by showing her own worth in helping to solve the crime. 

One of the interesting aspects of this story that differs from so many is Zofia seemingly has helped solve the crime early in the book and thus carries on with the assumption that justice for Karolina has been served. A year or so later it is determined that perhaps the case hasn't been solved and she sets off again to investigate. I really like the way this shows the fallibility of our hero and everything does not fall neatly into place as expected. 

I also find it interesting how Zofia is basically living a dual life of a socialite and a crime-solving sleuth. Her husband Ignacy has no idea of her investigation as it's all done behind the scenes. Ignacy has a very traditional view of women's roles and it might break him to find his wife taking on roles that he deems unsuitable. Zofia's character promotes the notion of women's rights without shouting it out. And I suspect due to societal restrictions it's very much how a woman of that time would have had to behave to avoid public downfall. 

I really enjoyed this story although the Polish names might have slowed down my progress as I was trying to mentally pronounce them all.  Overall I give this four stars.

I'd like to thank Netgalley and Mariner books for sharing an advanced reader copy in exchange for a fair review.
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The book is set in  late 19th century Poland so the setting alone is worth giving this book a try. The mystery of who murdered Karolina's maid, leads her deep into the male dominated world where as a woman she has to use all her imagination and cunning to make sure she gets heard. Recommended for readers who like mysteries set in unusual locations.
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Although I really liked the main character, Zofia, and her intelligence and feistiness, I felt the male characters were loquacious and too long winded, with philosophic rants.  The story takes place in Cracow, Poland in 1895, when Karolina, Zofia’s lady maid, is found murdered.  Zofia becomes involved in the case as simple explanations doesn’t ring true to her.  This is the second in a series, but I do t think I would read another.  Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
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As someone who liked the first book, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing, Karolina and the Torn Curtain is far better.

Zofia's maid is brutally murdered. She helps the police catch the culprit, but when she begins to doubt the culprit's identity, she gets stonewalled.

I liked Zofia in the last book. She was unapologetically not nice and self-serving. When someone she knows is the murder victim, she starts caring about having the murderer brought to justice. Through her investigation, her empathy for other's plight grows as we are shown the ugly side of Poland in 1895. This made me eager for the next book to be translated.

This review is based on an advanced reader copy provided through Netgalley for an honest review.
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Cracow 1895. Korolina ex-servant to Zofia Turbotynska has been murdered. With the help of her maid Franciszka she investigates.
Unfortunately the story, the characters or the writing style just couldn't keep my interest that much.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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A young 1890s Polish housewife sets out to solve the murder of her young servant. A bit didactic at times.
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