I started reading this novel because of the title. Really...
I'm familiar with the quote by the German poet Ludwig Tieck. The quote in German goes something like this:
"Wo der Teufel nicht selbst hin will, schickt er ein Weib",
Which means "Where the Devil Can’t Go, he'll send a woman" (Kershaw in this particular case). After reading the novel, I came to conclude that there's also a polish version of the same proverb. Despite the numerous tales and proverbs celebrating the wiseness of old people and promoting their well-being, the unwritten lore (stories and proverbs and riddles and songs) of a culture is replete with reflections of a basic distrustfulness of age. Several devil-incarnate personages, notably changelings and the devil himself, can be rendered powerless by tricking them into revealing their age. More to the point, in pre-industrial Europe superstitions abound that cast suspicion at old people, especially women. Proverbs and popular superstitions state this claim as the one that was used for the book title.
As well as the strong plot, what makes this book worth reading is its sound and authentic portray of the Polish community. Characters come to life (particularly Janusz), but also the minor characters are extremely well-portrayed. But it's the bigger picture that makes the book more than a simple Crime Fiction story. The values of the Poles versus the English, how English and Polish societies have changed over the last decades, and ultimately the shady past of those involved in regime change in Poland.
There are several aspects that distinguish the novel from the Crime Fiction Landscape. The main one, at least for me, was Lipska's treatment of immigration and multiculturalism tackled from the other side of the mirror, i.e., from the British POV, which was something I’ve certainly not seen in a mainstream British novel of late. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s also some Polish woven into the novel texture. Lipska fortunately includes plenty of English-language context so that I was still able to grasp the meaning of the polish words and phrases regarding what was meant.
Technically the novel has some problems, namely that fact Lipska is not really comfortable with the narrative point-of-view. It shows in several places in the novel.
Nevertheless worth reading.