Let me be clear: Zofia Turbotynska, the amateur sleuth at the center of the new novel, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing, is not going to win the award for Most Likeable Lady Detective In A Golden Age Style Detective Novel any time soon. She really, really isn’t.
But she should definitely win Most Fun.
Zofia Turbotynska is is a lady who Gets Things Done. The wife of a university professor in 1893 Cracow, she regards social climbing as an art form and practices it relentlessly, whether she’s running errands or attending a funeral. When she’s not navigating the shark-infested world of high society, she’s reading detective novels or overseeing a succession of inept maids. But it’s not enough for a woman with her boundless energy.
Zofia, it turns out, is bored.
So when she visits the local nursing home (for charity) just as a resident goes missing, she can’t resist getting involved. Elderly Mrs. Mohr can barely walk, so how did she manage to disappear from her upper-story apartment? Aided by Franciszka, her loyal cook, and Sister Alojza, a high-strung nun, Zofia is on the hunt for answers — and a killer. The answer is cleverly hidden both deep in the past and in plain sight, with twists and red herrings galore.
Like so many amateur sleuths, Zofia is continually belittled by the local police, who assume a society wife wouldn’t know anything about murder. But it’s precisely because she’s so good at reading people and recognizing the undercurrents of any given situation that she makes a fantastic detective.
A fantastic person, on the other hand, she is not. She’s self-centered and status-obsessed. She can be petty and unkind and she lies to nuns. To nuns! Despite this, there’s something deeply charming about Zofia: her determination to unmask the murderer, her affection for her husband, her sly handling of the insufferable police detective. She’s so brazen and outrageous — and yet relatable — that you can’t help but cheer her on.
Mrs. Mohr, notably, is translated from the original Polish, which may contribute to the slightly formal tone of the novel; it’s a little bit stilted, almost fussy — but the voice is a perfect match for Zofia herself. In many ways, it’s as much a comedy of manners as it is a detective novel, and the end result reads like one of those aforementioned Golden Age detective stories, with a refreshingly tart protagonist, and it’s well worth your time.