The Balkan Route by Cal Smyth


Fahren­heit Press
ISBN 978–1979517591
Novem­ber 2017
280 pages

Ital­i­cized text from the Fahren­heit Press site:

After a busi­ness­man is bru­tal­ly mur­dered in Bel­grade, Inspec­tor Marko Despo­tović digs into the web of cor­rup­tion that con­nects the police, politi­cians, drug deal­ers and spir­i­tu­al heal­ers as they bat­tle over the lucra­tive Balkan hero­in route. 

Can Marko nav­i­gate his way through an increas­ing­ly com­pli­cat­ed and dan­ger­ous inves­ti­ga­tion as he tries des­per­ate­ly to keep him­self and his fam­i­ly safe?

Marko Despo­tovic is a Ser­bian police inspec­tor with a com­pli­cat­ed life. On one hand, there's life with his lov­ing wife Bran­ka and their teenaged ten­nis-prodi­gy son. On the oth­er, there's his neighbor's col­lege-aged daugh­ter, liv­ing near­by, who is also Marko's mis­tress, and the pass­ing­ly curi­ous fact that he's a non-cor­rupt cop in a very cor­rupt world. 

When he solves the mur­der of a local celebri­ty busi­ness­man, Despo­tovic is both­ered slight­ly by how eas­i­ly the case gets solved. What fol­lows reflects not only the cor­rup­tion of the local police force, but also the inter­sec­tion of crim­i­nal­i­ty and pol­i­tics. The ter­ri­ble real­i­ty is that Despo­tovic, in order to keep his life and fam­i­ly in good order, must become part of the cor­rupt sys­tem he only part­ly under­stands. For a while. And then, he becomes good at being cor­rupt him­self, a mat­ter hint­ed at in the first words of the novel.

"The sil­hou­et­ted fish­ing boats remind­ed Inspec­tor Marko Despo­tović of corpses that had float­ed down from Vuko­var dur­ing the Yugoslav War. Marko turned from the view of the Danube, lit up by the ris­ing sun, picked up his Ser­pi­co-style sun­glass­es and slid them into his shirt open­ing." There's no short­age of corpses in the nar­ra­tive, and the specters of the recent wars sur­round the char­ac­ters in both object and imag­i­na­tion, as a cou­ple key scenes take place among the ruins of bat­tles not so long past. There's also the specter of Amer­i­can film and the lure of easy star­dom. It's a milieu to die for.

Writer Cal Smyth's com­mand of this sto­ry rife with dou­ble­cross and com­pli­ca­tion is a mar­vel to read. Told in third per­son lim­it­ed per­spec­tive, most­ly from Marko's point of view but skip­ping around to var­i­ous oth­ers as the plot demands, this book is so well char­ac­ter­ized, Marko's plight so real, that from the reader's per­spec­tive, the seam­less whole has both break­neck pace and delib­er­ate intent. The out­come, grim yet real­is­tic, feels inevitable and right.

Smyth spent time in Ser­bia dur­ing the time peri­od in which the nov­el takes place, avoid­ing a NATO bomb­ing, and it shows. Sim­ple Google search­es of events and names in the book reveal a writer whose inten­sive research for the nov­el near­ly sur­pass­es his clear felic­i­ty with lan­guage, from the names of well-known crim­i­nals to the names of local pop stars. There's even a self-actu­al­iza­tion spe­cial­ist who plays a cen­tral role in a plot that gives as much plea­sure from unusu­al jux­ta­po­si­tions and dis­so­nances as it does from the writing.

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One Response to The Balkan Route by Cal Smyth

  1. lorenzospizzirri says:

    thank you so much!!!

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