Sunday, August 25, 2019

Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street: Heda Margolius Kovaly

Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street is set in the 1950s. It is the early days of Communist Czechoslovakia, a time when no one knew who to trust, and policemen and State Security agents were looking for traitors at the slightest excuse.

This novel focuses on Helena Nováková, an usher at a cinema in Prague. Her husband is in prison, accused of espionage, based on a map he drew for friends coming to visit them. She hopes for his release, hates living alone, and is very depressed. She has lost her job working at a publishing house and has had to move to a smaller apartment. As the story starts she is going to her job as an usher at the cinema.


Some of the story is told in first person from Helena's point of view. Other chapters give the reader glimpses of the lives of the other ushers at the cinema. The cinema and its employees are being watched because the authorities know that some information is getting out of the country through someone there. This sounds like a very depressing story and certainly it is not upbeat at any time. But there are surprises at the end and I found it well worth the time spent on it.

The story is semi-autobiographical. The events in Helena's life were close to those in the author's past. Heda Margolius Kovály first published this book in 1985 in Germany. There is a very illuminating Introduction by Ivan Margolius, son of Heda Margolius Kovály.

I was very glad I read this book. It gave me more insight into that time in Czechoslovakia. I would recommend it to those interested in the setting, and those who like a blend of espionage and crime fiction, although this is not your normal rendition of those genres. I found it a brief and engaging read, and wished I could have finished it in one read.

For more detail and further insights, see these reviews:


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Publisher:   Soho Crime, 2015 (orig. pub. 1985)
Translator:  Alex Zucker
Length:       231 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Setting:       Prague, Czechoslovakia
Genre:        Mystery / Espionage
Source:       Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2017.


10 comments:

  1. Yes, it sounds depressing. I'll skip it, in spite of your well-written review.

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    1. Thanks, Rick. It is depressing, and I understand why you would avoid it.

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  2. I'm glad you thought this was worth the read, Tracy. It is, as you say, depressing. But I think it presents a really interesting look at a particular place and time. I also the atmosphere was conveyed effectively, and the characters were interesting, too.

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    1. Depressing, but also intriguing, Margot. It certainly gave me a feel for the time.

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  3. Interesting - not heard about this at all. I do like to read about other cultures, and have an interest in the former Czechoslovakia, so this one is definitely going on the list.

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    1. I think I found this at the book sale and took a chance on it, Moira. And was very glad I did.

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    1. I thought so, Col. A shame she only wrote one novel.

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  5. I liked this one quite a lot, too. It certainly caught (I assume accurately) the paranoia and claustrophobia of that particular place and time. It's a pity, I think, that Soho marketed it as a Chandleresque mystery.

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    1. I agree, John, it would irritate some readers to think they were getting one type of book and be reading another. I am fond of Chandler, but I don't really like to read someone else writing like that. So that would turn me off. Fortunately when I ran into the book, all I noticed was the setting and that it was set in the 50s, and that was what attracted me.

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