INNOCENCE, OR, MURDER ON STEEP STREET Reviewed
Prague in the 1950’s is a city steeped in distrust, politics and the knowledge that your friends and neighbors might sell you out to the government at any given time. Looking over your shoulder and watching what you say lest you disappear is ingrained in daily life. Helena and her husband Karel had lovely jobs…until a casual acquaintance with the wrong person lands Karel in prison indefinitely. Helena loses her good office job but manages to find work at a movie theatre while she waits for word about Karel. When a young boy is murdered, the police descend on the theatre, and the secrets everyone has been hiding threaten to spill out.
Heda Margolius Kovaly is perhaps best known for her memoir of surviving Auschwitz and her first husband’s political murder in Prague during the very time this novel is set. INNOCENCE would be gripping even without the knowledge of Kovaly’s background, but knowing her experiences of the political corruption and paranoia were first hand make this story all the more intense. INNOCENCE is a gripping account of the terror of living under the communist regime in Prague, and the insidiousness of evil. Each of the women working at the theatre has made bargains with herself in order to survive—they do what they have to do, right? Yet they still believe they are innocent of the greater evil perpetrated by others. But those small acts of betrayal and evil all add up to larger and more deadly consequences. No one is completely innocent…no matter how much one may want to believe it.
Point of view in this novel switches from first to third person—while we are in first person we are seeing Helena’s perspective, and in third person we follow other members of our cast of characters as they go about nurturing their secrets. I actually enjoyed the change—Helena’s perspective was powerful, since it brought home the emotion and tension of living with daily fear. And the third person was enjoyable because it allowed us to look behind closed doors and see what secrets were being hidden by Helena’s co-workers. The mystery was solid and the intrigue was well played out. I’m glad this intense and powerful novel has finally been brought to light.
Erica Ruth Neubauer