‘Find what you were looking for, Inspector?’
Every day the same question. A different uniform but the same question.
They thought Lucia enjoyed being here. They thought that was why she kept coming back. But they were asking the wrong thing. She had found what she was looking for – she had found what she had been sent to discover – but she had found out more besides. The question was what to do about it. The question was whether to do anything at all.
In the depths of a sweltering summer, teacher Samuel Szajkowski walks into his school assembly and opens fire. He kills three pupils and a colleague before turning the gun on himself. Lucia May, the young policewoman who is assigned the case, is expected to wrap up things quickly and without fuss. The incident is a tragedy that could not have been predicted and Szajkowski, it seems clear, was a psychopath beyond help. Soon, however, Lucia becomes preoccupied with the question no one else seems to want to ask: what drove a mild-mannered, diffident school teacher to commit such a despicable crime?
Piecing together the testimonies of the teachers and children at the school, Lucia discovers an uglier, more complex picture of the months leading up to the shooting. She realises too that she has more in common with Szajkowski than she could have imagined. As the pressure to bury the case builds, she becomes determined to tell the truth about what happened, whatever the consequences…
“There was a surprising number of shoes. Girls’ shoes mainly but also trainers and boots. To one side a single brogue, size ten or eleven. A pair of glasses, the lenses intact but one arm snapped off. A handkerchief, white.”
Rupture begins with the nonchalant thoughts of two teenagers bunking off school, then hearing that there has been an incident at the school. They run straight there and see chaos: teachers and students in tears, police, and eventually, the bloodied bodies of their classmates.
From this point, the novel looks set to carry on in a similarly morbid vein, filled with details of blood and death and psychosis. What soon unravels, though, is a tale of the lives of ordinary people, and how they interpret the tragedy that has affected them all.
“Imagine dying before you’re old enough to learn to drive. Imagine dying before they’ll serve you in a pub.”
Samuel Szajkowski is a quiet History teacher, of Polish descent, who does not seem to hit it off at his new teaching job. He upsets other teachers and the students don’t give him a chance before they start hounding him. Although he has a brief dalliance with another teacher, their relationship never takes off and she ends it in favour of someone else, who could be described as Szajkowski’s nemesis. One fateful day he chooses to come into the assembly hall and shoot at students and teachers alike. Whether his shots were carefully aimed or wildly indiscriminate is debated by various characters throughout the novel, but never fully determined.
Lucia May is the police officer in charge of the case. Her boss, who is slightly contemptuous of her, expects her to see it the way everybody else does: Szajkowski is a monster who killed innocent people for no reason. To his chagrin, she doesn’t see it in these same black and white terms. She notices the fact that Szajkowski was abused by his workmates and students – something more obvious to her, perhaps, due to the consistent harassment she receives from one of her male colleagues – and tries to piece together the story of a man who may have been driven to the end of his tether and reacted in an unusual way.
Although the characters’ opinions are obvious, spoken loudly and unashamedly, Lelic allows the reader to make up their own mind – as a definitive verdict is never offered, even at the very end of the novel.