In detective fiction the murderers and those who are tracking them down come in all varieties; they are usually, however, clear-cut, unusual, and depicted so as to hold the reader’s attention. After all – we don’t read detective novels just to find out who did the killing and why. In The Arrival, Witold Sadowski has placed his bets on a different trick: indefinability. The title itself is ambiguous, because it’s hard to say whether it refers to one person, two, or many... The novel’s action takes place in an undefined time and place, everywhere and nowhere, as they say, in “some” town. Evil runs rampant, monstrous crimes are committed time and again, and whoever tries to oppose the mysterious killer dies. It is one Hans Hurrley who is responsible for the murders – apparently, because the people on his trail don’t know who he is and whether he even exists. It could be that Hurrley is a mere hypothesis, he may be the devil, or pure evil nesting in the minds of the weak; or perhaps an apocalyptic beast, who is out to punish people for their sins. And of these there are many, because in the world of Sadowski’s novel, all values have been eliminated (in The Arrival you can find not only the detective-novel strain, but also a harsh satire on post-modernity, which the book calls “post-relativism”). Among those trying to oppose Hurrley is Debergov, one of the mysterious Chosen People, whose wife has been bestially murdered, much like other Chosen People, his close friends. How does it turn out? This, of course, I won’t give away. What is this novel of Sadowski’s, and what is it about? I would risk the theory that The Arrival is something like a detective parable about the eternal struggle between good and evil, angels and devils – a struggle that never ends, and which grows all the more brutal the more evil there is in the world. But this novel can just as easily be read as a story about crime and revenge.
- Robert Ostaszewski
Witold Sadowski (born: 1973) is a mathematician who works at Warsaw University. He has served as editor for the “Delta” mathematics monthly for many years. His output has included several dozen popular-scientific articles, and a book entitled Femme fatale. Three Tales of the Queen of All Sciences (2000), which won a national award. The Arrival is his prose debut.
The garden’s green had the color of grass coming to life, a bright intensity mixed with the grey smears of boughs and branches. The sunshine poured through the tiny leaves, birdsong was audible, and Debergov felt somewhat dazzled by this world whose existence he had almost forgotten, which went on independently of him – a world independent of his tragedies or joys, independent of Hans Hurrley and his affairs. This certainty of existence, endurance, this unwavering urge to live filled Ivo’s heart with a sense of peace he hadn’t known for ages. And so he walked beside Jan Mateusz without hurrying, waiting for him to start up a conversation. But the greatest literary figure of his times - apart from Sir Robert - was gathering his thoughts, and perhaps his strength as well, and so they walked in silence for a good few minutes.
At last Jan Mateusz stopped and, staring somewhere into the distance to avoid Debergov’s gaze, asked:
“Do you believe it?... That they’ll ever find Hans Hurrley, I mean?”
“I have to believe it,” said Ivo smiling in his customary sad manner. “I’ve already been close a few times...”
“And yet you never managed...”
“True, I never managed.... Hurrley always vanished like a mirage. That last step was always missing, the last link in the chain leading to him... The work is kind of... Sisyphean,” he smiled again. “I sometimes think that he isn’t there at all. That Hans Hurrley doesn’t exist.”
“Is that possible?”
“Yes. It’s an admissible hypothesis. Though rather improbable,” he added a moment later.
Now it was Jan Mateusz’s turn to smile.
“You really won’t eliminate the possibility that the aim of your pursuit is a phantom or an apparition?”
“Somebody did the killing. And that was no ghost or illusion,” Ivo replied in all seriousness.
Mateusz pondered something for a moment, and then asked matter-of-factly:
“What do you know about him? Is Hans Hurrley tall or short? Brown-haired or blond? Do you have any sure details?”
“No. I don’t know much. There’s been no witness who could have seen him directly... Except for - perhaps - the Surgeon, but he... He was as silent as the grave until... And then the others...” For a moment Debergov got tangled up in his answers, as if wavering between what he could and what he wanted to say, until he finally spoke in a confident tone: “It’s so hard to separate the bleak legends from the truth here. If I gave credit to every testimonial, Hans Hurrley would have to have every characteristic at once. Or change, like a chameleon. There’s only one constant. He is evil, though it seems to him that he is beyond good and evil. That’s almost everything I know about him.”
“That’s not much. You really might start to doubt in the existence of someone who has only one characteristic...”
A silence fell.
“Have you ever spoken with murderers?” Ivo finally asked.
Jan Mateusz shook his head no.
“I have. Many times. And it often seemed to me as though something or somebody had roused the evil in them that was hidden inside. That the evil had come into them first from the outside, and that without that impulse they wouldn’t have done anything.”
“And that evil from the outside - that’s Hans Hurrley?”
Jan Mateusz stopped. He considered something for a while, and then he turned toward Debergov and said:
“I’ve always thought that Hans Hurrley was a murderer, a monster, perhaps even a Beast. But now I’m listening to you and it seems as though you’re looking for something more than a killer. You’re speaking of this man as though he’s the cause of all the evil in this city.”
“Yes... You might perhaps see it that way...”
“In that case you’ve set yourself an impossible task. Evil will always remain. You might track down Hurrley, you might kill him. But you’ll only tear off the mask of evil. And underneath it, there’ll be another one.”
“Are you telling me this to discourage me?”
“I’m not sure why,” brooded Jan Mateusz. “Perhaps I have my own doubts. And maybe I’m trying to justify myself? Perhaps I’m ashamed that I can’t devote as much as you have...”
“Take it easy.” Debergov’s face suddenly went pale, and without a trace of a grimace. “If I had known before what I stood to lose, I would never have come down this road.”
“That still doesn’t make me feel easy,” sighed Mateusz.
“You see, it’s easy to live a safe distance from evil. But to choose to stand up against it? To risk coming in contact with it? Maybe it was fear of it that made me say that about the masks?”
“And don’t you believe that under the next mask, perhaps the hundredth or the thousandth, there won’t be anything more?”
“I think there will be. And that neither you nor I could endure the sight of it.”
Silence fell. They now followed the trail downhill in silence.
“Someone will come after me who will endure,” said Debergov with somewhat forced optimism.
“And when will that be?” smiled Jan Mateusz. “When that happens, we’ll have God’s Kingdom on Earth. The old prophecies will have been fulfilled.”
Ivo now grinned in earnest.
“You’re overestimating me. I’m not fighting for the common good. I only want to catch a criminal.”
“Sure, you only want to catch a criminal... And how can I be of help?”
“What do you know about Dominik de Ploeve?” said Debergov, getting down to business.
Jan Mateusz shrugged his shoulders.
“Not much. He doesn’t really interest me.”
“Could he have had any contact with... Hans Hurrley?”
“Are you talking about those plays of McCallost’s?” smiled Michelle’s father. “Kevin’s got some strange ideas. I spoke with him about Literateur. That’s a one-act based on some hazy rumors that got spread in our circles; I can’t say how, to tell you the truth. But De Ploeve is doing everything to make those stories appear convincing. He’s so amoral that many would mistake him for a devil-worshiper, but I think it would be hard to accuse him of fraternizing with Hans Hurrley. Why don’t you talk to him about it yourself? I have Dominik’s address from a few years back. I think he’s still living in the same place.”
Ivo nodded his head, and they walked in silence for some time.
Translated by Soren Gauger