The Bottom Line: This magical eastern European crime caper is filled with crackling romantic suspense, priceless artifacts, stoic philosophy and a truly stunning character arc.
As two Americans embark on a journey to Krakow in 1999, their quest to test the waters of a budding romance inadvertently thrust them into a web of theft, murder and magic. While in Poland, historian Adam Kasper is drawn to papers within the archives of a cavernous museum. Meanwhile, journalist and girlfriend Joan Templeton, who has no such obsessions, soon finds herself taken with local lecturer Rudy Vander Lage, who in addition to his good looks and charm, is also fluent in a dizzying array of languages.
Meanwhile, Pawel Radincki – another constant presence at the museum – has sinister plans. He has returned to Krakow looking for “thieves for hire” to take part in a theft with multiple phases. One of these associates, Bodie, finds Pawel’s intended prize “baffling.” He rightly suspects that Pawel has far bigger plans, and the conflict between the two creates great suspense.
From the start, author Carolyn Korsmeyer proves to be a master in world-building. While Krakow itself easily comes alive on the page, the museum’s stone exterior and its rambling interiors are simultaneously foreboding, engaging and visceral. She does this not simply with cinematic exposition, but with character details, such as when she describes Klementyna Kamynska’s footwear: “her shoes were resoled every year, for the hard floors—ancient oak in the exhibition rooms, stone in the corridors—took their toll.” That’s especially true once the magical artifact of Pawel’s fascination is revealed.
As for Adam and Joan, while their relationship arc is relatively predictable – Adam’s early rumination on whether Joan would be a “messy roommate” is just one of many signs that he’s far too immature for her – it is nevertheless entirely believable and familiar. Thankfully, Korsmeyer has something far more interesting in mind. Joan’s character arc, down to the very last sentence of the last page, is nothing short of stunning, and by itself is well worth the price of admission.