Review: Resilience

Bogdan Hrib – Resilience (Blog Tour)

Published by Corylus Books, Kindle edition £3.79 at the time of writing, paperback edition to follow. Translated by Marina Sofia. I received a proof copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Ewa Sherman for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

First, the official blurb: Stelian Munteanu has had enough of fixing other people’s problems: all he wants to do is make the long-distance relationship with his wife Sofia work. But when a notorious Romanian businessman asks him to investigate the death of his daughter in the north of England, he reluctantly gets involved once more. This time it turns into a tangled web of shady business dealings and international politics. Moving rapidly between London, Newcastle, Bucharest and Iasi, Resilience shows just how easy and dangerous it is to fall prey to fake news and social media manipulation.

Bogdan Hrib was part of a panel of Romanian writers who appeared at Newcastle Noir in 2019 and a fascinating discussion it was too, about the authors’ work, their take on the genre and the difficulties publishers had in getting Romanians interested in home-grown writers, as opposed to the US/UK imports, and also getting good English translations to share Romania’s stories with a wider world. Corylus Books is helping with this latter issue, and the fact Resilience is partly set in the north-east of England, my homeland, made reading this novel irresistible.

We open in a South Shields art gallery, at an exhibition of portraits of Romanian writers – I love the sly dig from our female character here, “Writers completely unknown here, they’d not even been translated”, which harked back to that Newcastle Noir discussion.

Two days later, a body is found on the shoreline by a hotel on the South Shields beach. A man from the gallery audience is among the onlookers, it seems he’s worth keeping an eye on…The next day, in Bucharest, Stelian Munteanu – journalist, publisher and unofficial investigator – is rudely awoken by a phone call: businessman Pavel Coman’s daughter Ana is dead; he needs Stelian’s help, his reputation as a problem-solver having preceded him. Stelian doesn’t much like Pavel, but he agrees to look into the young woman’s death, from both the Romanian and UK sides.

Details emerge in Newcastle, at Ana’s flat in London – the city where Stelian’s wife, Sofia Matei, is currently living and working – and back in Romania. The man Ana was apparently in a relationship with is an interesting lead, and a broad connection with other events. Then all hell breaks loose for Pavel, and people linked to his daughter hear warning shots too.

Meanwhile, clandestine conversations are going on about fake news and disinformation, and about a nationalist movement in Romania plus an election in Poland are going on. It’s all rather chilling.

We learn repeatedly that people are not always who or what they first appeared to be as those strands slowly, slowly, come together. Then things heat up quickly: A large protest. A bomb scare. Fears of a coup as thoughts turn to a previous time of great tension in the country. But then rather than crash and overwhelm, the wave’s energy is channelled away and it washes in quietly – but some people find themselves left high and dry.

Although there is plenty of tension and much to take in, the language remains unhurried and the narrative has plenty of time for discussions about coffee preferences, social media choices and the minutiae of life so we have time to digest what is going on. Praise here for translator Marina Sofia for keeping that balance between tension and relaxation perfectly pitched.

Places are sketched rather than dwelt on; there’s enough detail to know where you are and get a clear flavour of the place, but little more. Dialogue is much more important to Hrib, this (plus in the interior monologues of the various players) is where character is revealed, the plot is moved along and clues are dropped. It gives the novel more immediacy and more of a thriller feel and is a refreshing take.

The series is ostensibly focused on Stelian, but this feels more of an ensemble piece – I’d like to see him truly at the centre of a story and see the contacts and skills hinted at here foregrounded and see what he’s really made of.  I felt a couple of reveals pushed rather too hard, and even with a big scene in London close to the end with the main characters discussing events I wasn’t entirely sure I understood the implications of everything that happened. But for all that, Resilience is a decent page-turner and offers plenty of interest in its choice of setting and its use of the links between geopolitics and disinformation as a major theme – there’s a lot that makes you look at the world a little differently, it definitely made me think. It might have been my first taste of Romanian Noir/Balkan Noir, but it’s unlikely to be my last.

Bogdan Hrib was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1966. A former journalist, civil engineer by training and now professor at a Bucharest university, he co-founded Tritonic Books in 1993 and has been instrumental in bringing foreign crime writers to a Romanian audience, as well as introducing Romanian crime writers to the English-speaking world. He was the vice-president of the Romanian Crime Writers Club 2010-12, and the director/organiszer of the International Mystery & Thriller Festival in Râșnov 2011-15, as well as the PR co-ordinator of the History Film Festival in Râșnov. He is the author of the crime fiction series featuring Stelian Munteanu, a book editor with a sideline doing international police work. Kill the General (2011), the fourth book in the series, was Hrib’s first novel translated into English, and won the Special Award of the Bucharest Writers Association in 2012. Resilience, the sixth in the series, was published in May 2020 by Tritonic and is now available in English via Corylus Books. You can follow him on Twitter here: @bo_hrib

Marina Sofia was born in Romania but has lived in the UK for half of her life. She was a reviewer for Crime Fiction Lover for more than seven years and has also worked for Asymptote Literary Journal. She previously translated Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu for Corylus Books. She blogs at: Twitter: @MarinaSofia8

Don’t forget to check out all the other reviews on the tour!

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