Wszyscy Jesteśmy Podejrzani – Joanna Chmielewska

It may be a hard situation to imagine, but please try to picture Agatha Christie writing a satirical crime novel about a Polish architecture firm during communism. The book is filled with crazy characters that function in an even more crazy environment. A good mystery with a huge dose of humor.

As always in the case of Polish books let’s start with the title: We Are All Suspects. Which pretty much already tells you the Christie-like premise. Our main protagonist and narrator, Joanna, is an architect in the said firm. The bane of her existence is an overly active imagination.  Since childhood, she wanted to write a novel, and her working method involves immersing herself in the imaginings and letting her characters run. The problem is that they rarely do what she wants them to and she seems to have no control over their actions.

One day she imagines a plot of a crime novel. Using a familiar environment she stages it in the office she works in. And makes one of the coworkers the victim. Since just at the moment when her imagination is supposed to reveal the killer she gets startled by the real world, she brings the mystery to the office. And happily shares it with her colleagues and the imaginary victim. She asks everyone to join a game and come up with proposals for which one of them may be the imaginary murderer. A message goes on the message board, and everyone happily proceeds with their day.

Until, a few hours later a body of the imaginary victim is discovered in the office’s conference room, and he is quite literally dead, nothing imaginary anymore about it. This throws the whole office into a stupor, so the arriving police really struggle to get any sense out of them, as people confuse Joanna’s imaginations with reality. 

You can easily see how rife this premise is with comic possibilities. Not only do we have a quite large group of people knowing each other well, but also the majority of them have some artistic inclinations. Making them interesting and unpredictable suspects and witnesses. Generally, all hell breaks loose. And this is also in an almost literary sense, as Joanna’s imagination does fabricate a devil that she converses with when she cannot consult her ideas with her friend Alice. 

I read this book probably ten times since I was a teenager and I still chuckle at the batshit crazy conversations. It’s so loaded with absurdities and humor that sometimes one loses track of the victim. A book that always promises lots of fun. 

Joanna Chmielewska is often called the queen of the polish crime novel, even though there are now many candidates for the title. She published more than fifty novels, so some are better than others, but this is really one of the best ones. I will always regret that while her writing was translated into several languages it never was published in English. I think the cultural barrier was too much, as her books are heavily rooted in the realities of Polish communism and then early democracy, an environment one has to see with their own eyes to believe it. Hence also her huge popularity in Russia. 

Who do you consider the most ‘comic crime’ writer in English-speaking literature?

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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