Lead Review

  • Book: District VIII (Danube Blues)
  • Location: Budapest
  • Author: Adam LeBor

Review Author: tripfiction



Adam LeBor is an exciting writer. He is a foreign correspondent (working, amongst others, for the The Economist and Newsweek) and has actually written more non-fiction than he has fiction. The discipline necessary for a successful journalist comes though very clearly in his work… Everything he writes about is well researched, and essentially believable. He blurs fact and fiction in his stories.

The Rekyavik Assignment, the last book by this author, is set firmly amongst the scheming and machinations of the UN in New York. District VIII is set in Budapest where Adam is now based for half of his time (the other half is in London). It happens in 2015 at the peak of the refugee crisis – with thousands camping out rough close to the main Keleti train station, waiting for transport through to Austria and Germany.

A migrant is killed. A photograph of the body is sent anonymously to Balthazar Kovacs, a detective in the city’s murder squad. When he reaches the scene of the discovery, the body has disappeared – and he is threatened by the dreaded Gendarmarie, an out of control and brutal semi-police unit who report directly into the Prime Minister’s office. Why are they, or perhaps even the Prime Minister, interested in the murder of a humble migrant? What is going on? Balthazar, an anomaly in the police force in that he is a Roma, has strong connections – through his brother – to the Budapest underworld. He uses those connections, and his relationship with investigative journalist, Eniko, to try and find out. His enquiries lead him into a murky world of political intrigue, falsely obtained passports, and large amounts of money and favour changing hands to ensure the safe passage of some pretty unsavoury characters from Syria through to to Western Europe and perhaps onto the States. MI5 and the CIA are taking a keen interest in what is happening.

District VIII is brutal and violent. It is also, for the reader, quite feasible that the events described could actually have happened. Set against the background of the times, nothing seems impossible.

I read District VIII during a recent visit to Budapest (the essence of TripFiction…). I stayed near Heroes Square, and enjoyed wandering the short distances to the iconic Keleti Station, Jozsef Street (where Balthazar was brought up), and John Paul II Square – the former Republic Square where the body was found and where the Communist Party Headquarters used to be situated. I felt I understood a little more about the city and its recent history.

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