Sunday 12 January 2020

The Seven Churches by Milos Urban

First published in 1999, translated into six languages and a runaway best-seller in Spain, Seven Churches is one of the most haunting and terrifying thrillers to come out of Europe in years - by 'the dark night of Czech literature', Milos Urban. Written in the spirit of the sensation story but with rich Gothic overtones, Seven Churches traces the steps of a killer through the cathedrals of modern day - while his victims seem to be mysterious ghosts from the city's medieval past.
Amazon description

The subtitle of this novel is A Gothic Novel of Prague. It certainly is a Gothic novel in all senses of the word. It is about the Gothic architecture of Prague, in particular the seven churches that are at the centre of the story. The central character and narrator feels more attracted to the middle ages than to the modern. The novel is in the Gothic tradition of literature, not the Southern Gothic of the US but the English Gothic literature of Horace Walpole and the Czech (Gustav Meyrink, whose short stories reviewed here). Urban even gives his narrator such a liking for Walpole and co. that he says after reading them he is "more in tune with myself".  

As well as being a Gothic novel, Seven Churches is a mystery thriller with its central character investigating a series of gruesome crimes. I say "investigating", but the character is actually weak and inept, a typical oddball and outsider, he finds it hard to read people, especially women. He does have one gift however the ability at times to see the past, but it does not contribute to the solving of the crime, although it is important to the storyline. This gift and a number of strange incidents have resulted in the novel being described as magic realism. 

I enjoyed reading the novel, which I did in the Czech Republic. I ripped through it which is a good sign, but then it appealed to a lot of what I enjoy - medieval history, Prague, the concept of history, crime stories and the magical in the real. But I am not sure it succeeds in delivering on all fronts, and that includes the magic realism.