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The Rebellion Advent Calendar Day Five: Europe in Autumn only 99p!

Roll up, roll up, get yer top-notch eBooks for a barry bargain throughout December only from Rebellion Publishing!

Yes, that’s right, we’re dropping prices on all manner of brilliant books in the run up to Christmas, and today we’ve really outdone ourselves: Europe in Autumn, the Clarke Award-nominated first installment of Dave Hutchinson’s critically acclaimed Fractured Europe Sequence, is now only 99p on Amazon!

What?! Yes! Follow the links below to grab your copy, and do it quick – this deal will only be live for 24 hours, and then it’s gone…

Europe in Autumn is now only 99p!
Buy: UK|US

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Five things: Dave Hutchinson on thrillers

Dave Hutchinson’s magnificent Europe In Autumn is up for yet another award this weekend – the prestigious John W Campbells Award for best science fiction novel of the year – and to celebrate we asked the author to talk us through his five favourite thrillers.

Dont’ forget you can snap up Europe In Autumn – not to mention several other equally brilliant thrillers – for only £1.99 in our eBook sale!

1 Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson

Lionel Davidson was a terrific writer and this, his final novel, is his best, a cracking late Cold War thriller about an agent infiltrating a top-secret Siberian laboratory to retrieve a Great Secret. More than anything else, it’s a wonderful romp.

2 The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin

Published in 1943, The Small Back Room is set in the world of wartime scientific research. Its protagonist, Sammy Rice, is profoundly damaged, alcoholic, a serial avoider of responsibility forced into an act of bravery. One of the great joys of the book is its portrayal of bureaucracy and office politics, and it’s beautifully-written.

3 Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

The (unnamed) narrator sets out to see if he can stalk and prepare to shoot the (unnamed) head of state of a foreign nation. Supposedly interested only in the hunt itself, he doesn’t pull the trigger, but he’s caught by the dictator’s guards, escapes, and makes his way back to England, where he engages in a game of cat and mouse with foreign agents. Not a long novel, but an incredibly rich one.

4 Funeral In Berlin by Len Deighton

The IPCRESS File seems to get the most attention, but for my money this is Deighton’s best novel, a ferociously cool fable set in a Europe still bearing the scars and secrets of the recent War and still freshly-divided by the Berlin Wall. As always with Deighton, the writing is a joy.

5 Night Soldiers by Alan Furst

Furst’s novels form a huge mosaic centered around what has been called ‘the midnight of the century,’ the outbreak of the Second World War. This one, though, encompasses the whole period of the war, following Bulgarian Khristo Stoianev from his recruitment into the NKVD – the forerunner to the KGB – in the 1930s. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, detailed and calm and humane.

Europe In Autumn is out now!
Buy here: US|UK|eBook

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Europe In Autumn only £1.99!

By now you’re probably heard all about how brilliant Dave Hutchinson’s murky sci-fi thriller Europe In Autumn is, what with all the award nominations and all.

This week, with the prestigious Campbell Awards coming up and Europe In Autumn in the running, we thought we’d celebrate with an exclusive Rebellion eBook Store sale on all thrillers – that’s right, you can pick up Europe In Autumn for only £1.99!

There’s a plethora of other titles to choose from, including Haterz by James Goss, Cannonbridge by Jonathan Barnes and Plastic by Christopher Fowler, all available for less than the cost of a pint.

What are you waiting for? Get clicking – the sale closes on 14 June, so be quick!

Europe In Autumn is out now!
Buy here: US|UK|eBook

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Europe Day

Tomorrow – Saturday, 9th May 2015 – is the 30th Europe Day, an annual celebration proposed by the European Union to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of its predecessor, the EEC. Europe in Autumn‘s Dave Hutchinson writes a few words about the current state of the continent.

On April 13 this year, a small group of people travelled to a patch of land beside the River Danube in what used, once upon a time, to be Yugoslavia.

When they got there, they performed a little ceremony involving the declaration of the birth of The Free Republic of Liberland, Europe’s newest state.

Liberland is the brainchild of Vit Jedlicka, a Czech politician and economist who has spent years campaigning at home for lower taxes and smaller government, and it started out as something of a stunt, a roughly triangular piece of unclaimed land of about seven square kilometres between Serbia and Croatia with the flag of a new nation on it.

It didn’t stay a stunt for long. As I write this, Liberland has received in the region of 300,000 citizenship applications. Not bad for a country whose capital city is basically a shed.

There are really two Europes. The first is the geographical Continent, stretching from the Atlantic coast of Portugal to the Urals, and from Lampedusa to Scandinavia. The second is Europe, the political monolith whose peace and unity we celebrate today.

(Actually, and because this is Europe, there are two Europe Days – one on May 5 celebrating the establishment of the Council of Europe in 1949, and May 9, celebrating the day the European Union’s predecessor, the EEC, was proposed in 1950.)

Europe’s roots are in the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community, which came into being in 1951 and 1958, and in the beginning it consisted of just six countries – France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

It’s grown a bit since then, of course. The European Union enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty now has 28 member states, and the Schengen Agreement has turned the Union into what is, in effect, a single country.

Quite how long this will last is anyone’s guess. If you google ‘europe animation history,’ you’ll be presented with any number of animated maps of Europe which show the swelling and shrinking, the appearance and disappearance, of European states down the centuries. It’s actually quite hypnotic to watch, and it brings home one realisation – the history of Europe is about flux, about evolution. It never stays still.

Many of the countries we regard as historical monoliths are nothing of the sort. Germany is a relatively recent innovation, as is Italy as we know it today. Poland was one of the dominant nations in Europe at one time, then for a long time it didn’t exist at all as a national entity. Even when it reappeared on the European map its borders were bodily shifted East and West by outside forces.

There’s no reason to believe this will stop. The European Union may be a passing affectation, a shining ideal of a single borderless Continental state that was just too idealistic to last.

There are already signs that the things are changing again. Ukraine has begun constructing a ‘wall’ between itself and Russia. At the moment, the Wall is just a stretch of fencing in Kharkiv, but the plan is to extend it until it stretches for 1,500 miles, complete with trenches, watchtowers and guards.

In Bulgaria, a three-metre-high fence, topped with razor wire, is being put up along the border with Turkey to stop the flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa and curb the risk of Islamic militants entering the country. The plan is that eventually this new fence will be patrolled by one and a half thousand border police.

“The wall is back,” Professor David Priestland, who lectures in Soviet history at Oxford told The Independent recently. “There were lots of them in the Cold War. We thought we’d got rid of them, now they’re cropping up again. We’re partly seeing a militarisation of borders, and we’re also seeing walls going up to stem the movement or people. We are not in a wonderful world of trading with each other and moving freely, as it looked like we might be getting towards in the Nineties. That has not happened.”

The danger with fences is that everyone will start wanting one.

At the same time, there seems a genuine taste for new nations. Certainly, a percentage of the 300,000 people who have applied to live in Liberland may have been attracted by its apparent aim to be a tax haven, but many more have been attracted by the novelty of it.

Whether Liberland succeeds or fails, it seems to indicate that the map of Europe has not finished changing yet.

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Award nominations and thanks

Yesterday saw the release of the shortlist of nominees for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award and, as anyone near our twitter feed will know, we were delighted to see our own Dave Hutchinson among the final six with break-out hit Europe in Autumn.

Speaking in the wake of yesterday’s shortlist announcement the series’ editor Jonathan Oliver had this to say:

“Science fiction is often talked about as the fiction of ideas, and nowhere is this more true than in Dave Hutchinson’s brilliant debut novel, . Part political SF and part near-future espionage thriller, I knew from my first read-through that we had a truly extraordinary book on our hands. That the novel is now short-listed for the Clarke award is testament to Hutchinson’s talent and incisive prose. I’ve already read his next novel, Europe at Midnight, and I can confidently say that this is a writer going places; and it’s an honour to be his editor.”

We’d also like to take this moment to thank everyone who has bought, read, reviewed and talked about Europe in Autumn over the last fourteen months. We’ve been so delighted to see the continued outpouring of love for the title, and the excitement ahead of our recent prequel announcement for Europe at Midnight.

Set in a fracturing Europe, Europe at Midnight sees two men embark on a decades-long intelligence operation to penetrate the mysterious Community. What they find will make them question the nature of their lives and of reality itself.

From an immense university held captive by its masters to the quiet rooms of the intelligence community, a terrible secret spanning worlds begins to emerge…

Europe at Midnight appropriately publishes on the 5th November this year.

The final winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award will be announce on the 6th May at Foyles Flagship store in London and here is the final list of nominees, we couldn’t think of a better group of people to be among:

The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey (Orbit)

The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber (Canongate)

Europe In Autumn – Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)

Memory Of Water – Emmi Itäranta (HarperVoyager)

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August – Claire North (Orbit)

Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel (Picador)

Dave Hutchinson was born in Sheffield in 1960 and read American Studies at the University of Nottingham, before going on to become a journalist. He’s the author of six collections of short stories and the editor of three more. His novella ‘The Push’ was shortlisted for the BSFA Award in 2010, and his novel Europe In Autumn was shortlisted for both the BSFA Award and the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2015. He is also the author of the novel The Villages. A follow-up to Europe In Autumn, Europe At Midnight, will be published by Solaris in November.

He lives in London with his wife and a number of cats.

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Guest post: Living in Europe in Autumn in Spring

Living In Europe In Autumn In Spring

Dave Hutchinson

“The word nation is an enormously comforting one. A nation is safe, secure. It has borders and a currency and a means of defence and a place in the world. It gives us a sense of identity, a place to come home to when we’ve been away.

Similarly – notwithstanding the thoughts of UKIP – the word Europe conjures up solidity, a huge monolithic thing off the South Coast of England. Here too is identity, a place in the world.

Neither of these statements is quite true.

Europe is, of course, made up of numerous nations – not all of them yet in the European Union. It’s far from homogeneous; it’s big and fractious and unwieldy and full of strange languages and unusual food and people who quite often actively dislike the people living just the other side of the border.

And the nations themselves are less permanent than we would like to think, as any Pole will tell you. Borders shift, are imposed, shift again. If you go far enough back in history, many of the countries we now consider to be nations are actually accretions of smaller states. Germany, and Italy, as we know them, are actually quite recent things, historically speaking. Yugoslavia came into being in the years following the First World War, survived for a while, and then fractured into its component parts again. Similarly with Czechoslovakia. In Britain, we’re on the final run-up to a referendum which may see Scotland becoming an independent nation again, and in Ukraine the Russian invasion has given rise to something that styles itself The Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Europe In Autumn imagines a Europe in the latter half of this century where the EU has, for various reasons, begun to crumble and new countries – some of them not much bigger than municipal housing estates – have begun to spring up. It’s a novel about borders and about crossing them. The ‘Autumn’ of the title is, to a large extent, a figurative one. This is a Europe in flux, a Union at the end of its days.

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s really not. I’m beginning to think that we live there.
While I was doing background research for the book – and yes, I did do some – I came across the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the rights and duties of states, which lays out criteria for statehood. They’re surprisingly straightforward. ‘The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.’ The Convention goes on to say, ‘The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states.’

Basically, if an entity fits the qualifications it can be regarded as sovereign even if no one else recognises it.

Naturally, I was delighted to come across this because it at least offers some kind of real-life guiding framework within which the numerous new states and polities and kingdoms and republics in Europe In Autumn can exist.

In addition, the concept of micronations is far from being a new one. You could argue – and I would – that Monaco is a micronation, but other real-life examples include Sealand, the old Maunsell fort off the Essex coast which declared its sovereignty back in the mid-1960s and which I was delighted to discover is still in existence, having gone through all the teething troubles of any large-scale nation, including an attempted coup. If an old sea fort can become a nation, why shouldn’t the fans of Günther Grass set up their own microstate in Pomerania? Why shouldn’t a national park in Estonia become a sovereign country, as Rudi and his brother discuss one drunken night?

Rudi looked at his brother and tipped his head to one side. “Are you all right?”
Ivari looked at him and sighed. He ground his cigarette out in the ashtray. “Paps.”
“Well, yes,” said Rudi.
Ivari shook his head. “He’s…he wants the park to declare independence.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“He wants the park to secede. Become an independent nation. A…what do you call it?”
“Polity,” Rudi said, feeling numb.
Ivari made a half-hearted gotcha gesture. “Polity. Yes.”
“You talked him out of it, though?” said Rudi. He saw the look on his brother’s face and put his hands up. “Sorry. Pretend I didn’t ask that.”
Ivari lit another cigarette. “A park in Lithuania did it a couple of years ago, I don’t remember the name.”
Rudi nodded, though he couldn’t remember the name either. But it included part of the great primeval forest he had been telling Frances about earlier. “It didn’t last long,” he said.
“Yes, well, the old man says they were a bunch of amateurs. He says he’s got it all thought out.”
Well, at least that would be true enough. Rudi rubbed his face. “He can’t possibly make it work. He needs a big percentage of the population to agree to his proposal in the first place, before he goes anywhere with it.”
“There aren’t more than seven hundred people living in the park these days, Rudi,” said Ivari. “Most of them are as pissed-off as he is that the Government keeps all our tourism revenue.”
“And gives it back,” said Rudi. “Upkeep of the Manor and the visitor centre. The tram-line. Maintenance of the roads.”
Ivari shook his head. “He’s right about that, at least. We only ever see a fraction of it. We get the absolute minimum that we need. We’re having to cannibalise one of the humvees just to keep the others going. The rest of it?” He shrugged.
“It wasn’t always like that,” said Rudi, thinking back to when he was young and they moved here for the first time. “The Government used to hurl cash at us. You remember President Laar? ‘Estonia’s most precious natural resource. We will never neglect it.’”
“Laar was a long time ago. We were just kids, Rudi. Back then Paps could go to the Ministry and ask for anything his black little heart desired, and they’d give it him. Not any more. Now we’re a big tourist cash-cow, and most of the cash goes into someone else’s pockets.”
“It sounds as if the old man’s got you convinced.”
“He’s got a point about the money,” Ivari insisted. “When I took over from Paps as head ranger, we got on all right with the Government. They didn’t let us bathe in asses’ milk, but they granted us funds for a lot of projects. Nowadays I spend half my time in Tallinn with my cap in my hands.” He poured himself another drink and looked at the glass. “Oh, sure, the President comes up here a lot. The Prime Minister, as well. Lots of ministers. And what do we get?” He knocked back the drink in one swallow. “Flowers. Fruit. Fluffy toys.”
“Governments change, Ivari.”
“Nah,” Ivari said, pouring another drink. He held up the bottle. “You want?”
“Yes,” said Rudi, taking the bottle from his brother. He topped up his drink, put the bottle on the floor by his feet, out of Ivari’s reach.
“Nah,” Ivari said again. “It’s institutionalised now. This arsehole, he’s made everyone realise just how much we can help them feather their own nests.”
Rudi shook his head. “It can’t work. The park can’t possibly earn enough from tourism to be self-supporting.”
“Paps is talking about getting the Laulupidu moved out here.”
“The song festival? That’s never going to happen.”
Ivari looked at him. “Why not? It wasn’t in Tallinn originally; it was in Tartu.”
“But the Festival Grounds are there, the Lauluväljak. It’s where the Singing Revolution happened. Nobody’s going to move the festival from there.”
Ivari looked sourly at him. “With Paps’s contacts in the folk-song community? All it takes is his pals to decide to boycott the Festival and come here and have a rival one of their own.” He shook his head. “Not even difficult. Those old guys love him, Rudi. They’d walk into hell if he asked them to. Nah.” He shook his head again. “All he has to do is say the word, and the Laulupidu happens right here. Let Tallinn keep the Lauluväljak for heavy metal concerts.”
One of the biggest song festivals along the Baltic. Tens of thousands of people. If they could turn it into an annual event, rather than every five years, it might generate enoughrevenue to make a difference. If they could build a suitable venue for it here.
Rudi said, “He has to go to the UN with the proposal. Their fact-finding study alone could last ten years.”
“He’s got a precedent.”
Rudi felt his blood chill.
“That place in Berlin. The one with the anarchists.”
“New Potsdam,” Rudi said dully.
Ivari nodded. “That was a spontaneous thing. Paps thinks that if it happens spontaneously enough here, the UN will concede to it, just like they did with New Potsdam.”
“The Government could keep him in a UN Special Court for the rest of his life, arguing about that,” Rudi said, grasping at straws.
“True. But in the interim, the UN has no power to prevent a provisional Government being set up here. We’d have to accept Peacekeepers, but let’s face it, they might come in handy.”
Rudi put a hand to his face and rubbed it in a horrified, circular motion, as if trying to erase his features. “The old bastard,” he said, not without admiration. “He wants to hand the UN a fait accompli and let them sort it out.”
“And by the time they do have it sorted out…”
“…this is a functioning country and they have no right to abolish it. They have to recognise it.” Rudi blinked. “Fucking hell.” It was, he thought, either the work of a genius or a madman. With his father, it was usually impossible to tell which.
“Of course, we’d have to prove that we were a functioning country, in the interim,” said Ivari. “But Paps has it all costed out. He’s got spreadsheets, he’s got presentations, he’s got the results of divinations from the entrails of chickens. God only knows what he has. He’s bent the figures so far out of shape they don’t even look like numbers any more. He’s got a Constitution and a Parliament. In an emergency he’s got a Government that looks a lot like the Divine Right of Kings.” Ivari held his hand out flat, about a metre above the floor. “He’s got a stack of notes and proposals and suggestions this high.”
“Could it work?”
“I don’t know. I’ve seen all his paperwork. Half of it looks as though it was written by Aleister Crowley. On a costings level? We’d have a few tight years in the beginning, then we’d start to show a profit. We’d licence settlers, sell visas. Make the visas really arty so people would regard them as souvenirs. We should have a park mascot. Villem The Bear. Everyone loves bears. Especially if we design him right.” Ivari put his hand to the side of his head as though massaging away a pain.
“There aren’t enough people here to defend the borders,” Rudi said.
“Haven’t you been listening?” Ivari shouted, taking his hand from his head. “The United Nations will do that for us.”
Rudi raised a hand. “Okay. My mistake.”
Ivari sighed. “Can I have a drink, please?”
Rudi looked at the bottle of Scotch. After a while he picked it up and passed it over. Then he sat back and lit another cigar.
“Either he’s going to be the saviour of the park,” Ivari said, pouring a very large measure of whisky into his glass and carefully putting the bottle down where he could get at it when he needed it again, “or he’s going to destroy us.” He picked up his glass and took a big drink. “And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know which it’s going to be.”
Rudi looked at his brother, caught between a rock and a hard place. “We could always kill him,” he suggested.

One of the things I didn’t really address in Europe In Autumn is the human cost of all this. The creation of new nations, the imposition of new borders, causes tremendous upheaval. People wind up displaced. Families are torn apart. The Treaty of Rapallo, which in part codified the new nation of Yugoslavia, cut off about a quarter of Slovene territory and left around half a million Slavs in Italy. As Rudi, Max and Dariusz discuss in the book, after the Second World War the populations of German towns like Breslau and Oppeln suddenly found themselves living in the Polish towns of Wrocław and Opole, as part of the ‘compensation’ for the incorporation of the formerly Polish lands to the East – including Lwow – in the Soviet Union. It’s not often a painless process.

The Schengen Treaty aimed to remove border controls within the European Union. As someone who once spent five hours on a coach waiting to cross the Polish-German border, I can only applaud the sentiment. But Schengen, like all treaties, is a fragile thing. The borders could come back.

The Twentieth Century in Europe saw borders come and go, saw nations assembled and then dismantled. I don’t see why the Twenty-First Century will be any different. Some commentators have described the world in Europe In Autumn as dystopian. Personally, I’d beg to differ. The world in Europe In Autumn is actually what we would get if we were quite lucky. It is, at least, a world which is mostly at peace.
I think the world we live in now is the dystopia.”

About the author

Dave Hutchinson is the author of SF near-future spy thriller Europe in Autumn which is out now from Solaris and is also available in print and ebook from Amazon in the UK

and in North America.

He is the author of five collections of short stories and one novel, and his novella “The Push” was shortlisted for the 2010 BSFA award for short fiction. He has also edited two anthologies and co-edited a third. His short story ‘The Incredible Exploding Man’ featured in the first Solaris Rising anthology, and appeared in the 29th Year’s Best Science Fiction collection. He lives in north London with his wife and several cats.

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Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutinson – chapter 1

Europe in Autumn

By Dave Hutchinson

£7.99 (UK) ISBN 9781781081952
$7.99/$9.99 (US & CAN) ISBN 9781781081945

Available in paperback and ebook from
Available in paperback and ebook from

“Europe in Autumn is the work of a consummate storyteller and combines great characters, a cracking central idea, and a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Excellent.” – Eric Brown

A fractured Europe, a cook-turned-spy, a mighty web of espionage – but what happens when conspiracy threatens to overwhelm even reality itself?

Europe in Autumn is a dystopian SF espionage thriller that evokes the Cold War novels of John Le Carré and the nightmarish world of Franz Kafka, taking place in a war and disease-torn Europe of hundreds of tiny nations.

Rudi is a cook in a Kraków restaurant, but when boss asks him to help a cousin escape from the country he’s trapped in, a new career – part spy, part people-smuggler – begins.

Recruited by the shadowy organisation Les Coureurs des Bois, Rudi is schooled in espionage. When he is sent to smuggle someone out of Berlin and finds a severed head inside a locker instead, a conspiracy begins to wind itself around him.

With kidnapping, double-crosses and a map that constantly re-draws itself, Europe in Autumn is a modern science fiction thriller like no other.

Europe in Autumn hits book stores tomorrow and to tease your literary taste buds, we are very pleased to present – for free and your reading pleasure – the first chapter…

Max’s Cousin


The Hungarians came into the restaurant around nine in the evening, eight large men with gorgeously-tailored suits and hand-stitched Italian shoes and hundred-złoty haircuts. Michał, the maitre d’, tried to tell them that there were no tables free unless they had a reservation, but they walked over to one of the large tables and sat down. One of them plucked the Reserved card from the middle of the tablecloth and sailed it out across the restaurant with a snap of the wrist and a bearish grin, causing other diners to duck.
Max, the owner, had a protection deal with Wesoły Ptak, but instead of calling them or the police – either of which would have probably resulted in a bloodbath – he seized a notepad and set off across the restaurant to take the Hungarians’ orders. This show of confidence did not prevent a number of diners signalling frantically for their bills.
The Hungarians were already boisterous, and shouted and laughed at Max while he tried to take their orders, changing their minds frequently and causing Max to start all over again. Finally, he walked back from the table to the bar, where Gosia was standing frozen with fear.
“Six bottles of Żubrówka, on the house,” he murmured calmly to the girl as he went by towards the kitchen. “And try to be nimble on your feet.”
Rudi, who had been standing in the kitchen doorway watching events with interest, said, “Something awful is going to happen, Max.”
“Cook,” Max replied, handing him the order. “Cook quickly.”
By ten o’clock the Hungarians had loosened their ties and taken off their jackets and were singing and yelling at each other and laughing at impenetrable jokes. They had completed three courses of their five-course order. They were alone in the restaurant. With most of the meal completed, Rudi told the kitchen crew they could go home.

At one point, one of the Hungarians, an immense man with a face the colour of barszcz, began shouting at the others. He stood up, swaying gently, and yelled at his compatriots, who goodnaturedly yelled at him to sit down again. Sweat pouring down his face, he turned, grasped the back of a chair from the next table, and in one easy movement pivoted and flung it across the room. It crashed into the wall and smashed a sconce and brought down a mirror.
There was a moment’s silence. The Hungarian stood looking at the dent in the wallpaper, frowning. Then he sat down and one of his friends poured him a drink and slapped him on the back and Max served the next course.
As the hour grew late the Hungarians became maudlin. They put their arms around each others’ shoulders and began to sing songs that waxed increasingly sad as midnight approached.
Rudi, his cooking finished for the night and the kitchen tidied up and cleaned, stood in the doorway listening to their songs. The Hungarians had beautiful voices. He didn’t understand the words, but the melodies were heart-achingly lonely.
One of them saw him standing there and started to beckon urgently. The others turned to see what was going on, and they too started to beckon.
“Go on,” Max said from his post by the bar.
“You’re joking,” said Rudi.
“I am not. Go and see what they want.”
“And if they want to beat me up?”
“They’ll soon get bored.”
“Thank you, Max,” Rudi said, setting off across the restaurant.
The Hungarians’ table looked as if someone had dropped a five-course meal onto it from ceiling height. The floor around it was crunchy with broken glass and smashed crockery, the carpet sticky with sauces and bits of trodden-in food.
“You cook?” said one in appalling Polish as Rudi approached.
“Yes,” said Rudi, balancing his weight on the balls of his feet just in case he had to move in a hurry.

The Polish-speaker looked like a side of beef sewn into an Armani Revival suit. His face was pale and sweaty and he was wearing a shoulder-holster from which protruded the handgrip of a colossal pistol. He crooked a forefinger the size of a sausage. Rudi bent down until their faces were only a couple of centimetres apart.
“Respect!” the Hungarian bellowed. Rudi flinched at the meaty spicy alcohol-and-tobacco gale of his breath. “Everywhere we go, this fuck city, not respect!”
This statement seemed to require a reply, so Rudi said, “Oh?”
“Not respect,” the Hungarian said, shaking his head sadly. His expression suddenly brightened. “Here, Restaurant Max, we got respect!”
“We always respect our customers,” Max murmured, moving soundlessly up beside Rudi.
“Fuck right!” the Hungarian said loudly. “Fuck right. Restaurant Max more respect.”
“And your meal?” Max inquired, smiling.
“Good fuck meal,” the Hungarian said. There was a general nodding of heads around the table. He looked at Rudi and belched. “Good fuck cook. Polish food for fuck pigs, but good fuck cook.”
Rudi smiled. “Thank you,” he said.
The Hungarian’s eyes suddenly came into focus. “Good,” he said. “We gone.” He snapped a few words and the others around the table stood up, all save the one who had thrown the chair, who was slumped over with his cheek pressed to the tablecloth, snoring gently. Two of his friends grasped him by the shoulders and elbows and lifted him up. Bits of food adhered to the side of his face.
“Food good,” the Polish-speaker told Rudi. He took his jacket from the back of his chair and shrugged into it. He dipped a hand into his breast pocket and came up with a business card held between his first two fingers. “You need working, you call.”
Rudi took the card. “Thank you,” he said again.
“Okay.” He put both hands to his face and swept them up and back in a movement that magically rearranged his hair and seemed to sober him up at the same time. “We gone.” He looked at Max. “Clever fuck Pole.” He reached into an inside jacket pocket and brought out a wallet the size and shape of a housebrick. “What is?”
“On the house,” Max said. “A gift.”
Rudi looked at his boss and wondered what went on underneath that shaved scalp.
The Hungarian regarded the restaurant. “We break much.”
Max shrugged carelessly.
“Okay.” The Hungarian removed a centimetre-thick wad of złotys from the wallet and held it out. “You take,” he said. Max smiled and bowed slightly and took the money, then the Hungarians were moving towards the exit. A last burst of raucous singing, one last bar stool hurled across the restaurant, a puff of cold air through the open door, and they were gone. Rudi heard Max locking the doors behind them.
“Well,” Max said, coming back down the stairs. “That was an interesting evening.”
Rudi picked up an overturned stool, righted it, and sat at the bar. He had, he discovered, sweated entirely through his chef’s whites. “I think,” he said, “you should renegotiate your subscription to Wesoły Ptak.”
Max went behind the bar. He bent down and started to search the shelves. “If Wesoły Ptak had turned up tonight, half of us would have wound up in the mortuary.” He straightened up holding half a bottle of Starka and two glasses.
Rudi took his lighter and a tin of small cigars from his pocket. He lit one and looked at the restaurant. If he was objective about it, there was actually very little damage. Just a lot of mess for the cleaners to tackle, and they’d had wedding receptions that had been messier.
Max filled the two glasses with vodka and held one up in a toast. “Good fuck meal,” he said.
Rudi looked at him for a moment. Then he picked up the other glass, returned the toast, and drained it in one go. Then they both started to laugh.
“What if they come back?” Rudi asked.
But Max was still laughing. “Good fuck meal,” he repeated, shaking his head and refilling the glasses.

The Hungarians did not come back, which seemed to bear out Max’s view that they had just been out for a good time rather than intent on muscling in on Wesoły Ptak’s territory.
Wesoły Ptak – the name meant Happy Bird – was a deeply diversified organisation. Its many divisions included prostitution, drugs, armed robbery, a soft-drink bottling factory on the outskirts of Kraków, a bus company, any number of unlicenced gambling dens, and a protection racket centred around Floriańska Street, just off the Market Square of Poland’s old capital.
They were not, on the whole, known for their violent nature, preferring to apply force with surgical precision rather than in broad strokes. For instance, a restaurateur or shopkeeper who tried to organise his neighbours against the gang might find himself in hospital with anatomically-novel joints imposed on his legs. The other rebels would get the point, and the uprising would end. Another gang might be more likely to launch a massive firebombing campaign, or a wave of spectacularly bloody killings, but Happy Bird were content with a less-is-more approach.

In the wake of the Hungarians’ visit to Restauracja Max, some of the other businesses began to wonder out loud just what they were paying Wesoły Ptak for. This went on for a day or so, and then the son of one of the owners suffered a minor accident at school. Nothing life-threatening, just a few bumps and scrapes, and after that the grumbling along Floriańska subsided.
A week or so later, Dariusz, Wesoły Ptak’s representative, visited Restauracja Max one evening just before closing. All the staff but Rudi and Michał had gone home. Max asked Rudi to prepare two steak tartares, and he and Dariusz took a bottle of Wyborowa and a couple of glasses over to a table in the darkest corner of the deserted restaurant.

When Rudi emerged from the kitchen with the components of the steak tartares on a tray, Max and Dariusz were deep in conversation inside a cloud of cigarette smoke dimly-illuminated by the little sconce on the wall above their table.
As Rudi approached with the food, Dariusz looked up and smiled. “Supper,” he said.
Rudi set out on the table the trays of anchovies and chopped onions, the little bowls of pickled cucumbers, the condiments, plates of rye bread, saucers of unsalted butter, the two plates of minced beef, each with an egg yolk nestling in a hollow on top.
“We were discussing your visitors of last month,” Dariusz said.
“It was an eventful evening,” Rudi agreed, swapping the table’s ashtray for a clean one. “Have a good meal.”
“Why don’t you sit and have a drink with us?” Dariusz asked.
Rudi looked at Max, sitting at the other side of the table like a smoothly prosperous Silesian Buddha, hands clasped comfortably against the broad expanse of his stomach. Max was smiling gently and looking off into some faraway vista. He nodded fractionally.
Rudi shrugged. “All right.” He put the tray and the dirty ashtray on the next table, pulled up a chair, and sat.
“A busy night,” Max rumbled, picking up a fork.
Rudi nodded. Takings had gone down for a couple of days after the Hungarians visited, but they were back up now. Earlier in the week, Max had murmured something about a raise, but Rudi had known him long enough not to take it seriously.
“I was wondering about Władek,” Max said.
Władek was the latest of a long line of alleged cooks to arrive at Restauracja Max and then discover that they were not being paid enough for the long hours and hard work.
“He seems keen,” Rudi said, watching Max use the edge of his fork to mash up the egg and beef on his plate.
“They all do, at first,” Max agreed. “Then they get greedy.”
“It’s not greed, Max,” Rudi told him.
Max shook his head. “They think they can come here and be ready to open their own restaurant after a month. They don’t understand the business.”
Max’s philosophy of the restaurant business shared certain features with Zen Buddhism. Rudi, who was more interested in cooking than philosophy, said, “It’s a common enough misconception.”
“It’s the same in my business,” Dariusz said. Rudi had almost forgotten the little man was at the table, but there he was, mixing anchovies and chopped onion into his beef with a singleminded determination. “You should see some of our recruits, particularly these days. They think they’ll be running the city in a year.” He smiled sadly. “Imagine their disappointment.”
“Yes,” Rudi said. “The only difference is that it’s easier for a sous-chef to leave a restaurant than it is for someone to leave Wesoły Ptak.” Max glanced up from his plate, sighed, shook his head, and went back to mashing his meal together with his fork.
If Dariusz was offended, he gave no sign. “We’re a business, like any other,” he said.
“Not quite like any other,” said Rudi. Max looked at him again. This time he frowned before returning his attention to his steak.
Dariusz also frowned, but the frown was barely discernible, and it was gone after a moment. “Well, we do less cooking, it’s true,” he said, and he laughed. Max smiled and shook his head.
Rudi sat back and crossed his arms. Wesoły Ptak was nothing out of the ordinary; he had encountered organisations like it in Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius, and they were all alike, and Dariusz didn’t fit the demographic. He looked ordinary, a slim little middle-aged man with a cheap haircut and laugh-lines around his eyes. If he was armed, his unprepossessing off-the-peg business suit hid it wonderfully well.
“Should we worry about the Hungarians?” Rudi asked.
Dariusz looked up from his meal, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “Worry?” he asked. “Why should you worry?”
Rudi shrugged and watched Max working on his steak. Rudi hated steak tartare. The customer did all the preparation themselves, and they took up table space while they did it. Poles in particular seemed to regard it as a social occasion. They took forever about it, tasting over and over again and minutely adjusting the seasoning. When he had his own restaurant, steak tartare would not be on the menu.

Dariusz reached out and touched Rudi’s forearm. Rudi noticed his fingernails were chewed. “You mustn’t worry,” Dariusz said.
“All right,” said Rudi.
“This kind of thing happens all the time.”
“Not to me it doesn’t.”
Dariusz smiled. “You have to think of us like nations. Poles and Hungarians are the criminal princes of Europe.”
“And the Bulgarians,” Max put in goodnaturedly.
Dariusz shrugged. “Yes, one must include the Bulgarians as well. We must constantly visit, check each other out, put our toes in the water,” he told Rudi. “It’s a matter of diplomacy.”
“Do you mean what happened here the other night was a diplomatic incident?” said Rudi.
“It might well have been, if wiser heads had not prevailed.” Dariusz nodded at Max.
“You haven’t got a drink,” Max observed. He looked across the restaurant and Michał, responding with a maitre d’s telepathy, brought a clean glass over to the table for Rudi and then retreated behind the bar. Max filled the glass with vodka and said, “They were just looking for a good time, but nobody would give them one because everyone was afraid of them.”
“I can’t blame them,” Dariusz said. He tasted his steak, winced, reached for the tabasco bottle and shook a few drops onto the meat. “A bunch of drunken Hungarians, armed to the teeth, wandering into restaurants and bars. What’s one to think?”
“Indeed,” Max agreed.
“It would be their own fault if someone was to over-react,” Dariusz went on. He tasted his steak again, and this time it was more to his liking. This time he actually lifted a forkful into his mouth and chewed happily.
“And nobody would want that,” Max said. Apparently, his steak was also prepared to his satisfaction. He started to eat.
“Well, precisely,” said Dariusz. “Something like that could start a war.” He looked at Rudi and cocked his head to one side. “You’re from Tallinn, yes?”
“I was born in Taevaskoja,” Rudi said. “But I’ve lived in Tallinn.”
“I’ve never been there.” Dariusz looked at his glass, but it was empty. “What’s it like?”
Rudi watched Max filling Dariusz’s glass. “It’s all right.”
“You speak very good Polish, for an Estonian.”
Rudi picked up his own glass and drained it in one swallow. “Thank you.”
Dariusz put down his fork and burst out laughing. He reached over and tapped Max on the shoulder. “I told you!” he said. “Didn’t I tell you?”
Max smiled and nodded and went on eating. Rudi uncapped the Wyborowa and poured himself another drink. Michał had told him that Wesoły Ptak took their name from a song by Eugeniusz, one of a long line of Polish sociopolitical balladeers to rise briefly to fame before drinking themselves to death or being shot by jealous husbands or jilted lovers. The bird sings in its cage and its owners think it’s happy, Michał had told him, but the bird is still in a cage. The reference had completely baffled Rudi.
“We were discussing geopolitics,” Dariusz told him. “Do you think much about geopolitics?”
“I’m a cook,” Rudi said. “Not a politician.”
“But you must have an opinion. Everyone has an opinion.”
Rudi shook his head.
Dariusz looked disbelievingly at him. He picked up his glass and took a sip of vodka. “I saw on the news last week that so far this year twelve new nations and sovereign states have come into being in Europe alone.”
“And most of them won’t be here this time next year,” said Rudi.
“You see?” Dariusz pointed triumphantly at him. “You do have an opinion! I knew you would!”
Rudi sighed. “I only know what I see on the news.”
“I see Europe as a glacier,” Max murmured, “calving icebergs.” He took a mouthful of his steak tartare and chewed happily.
Rudi and Dariusz looked at him for a long time. Then Dariusz looked at Rudi again. “Not a bad analogy,” he said. “Europe is calving itself into progressively smaller and smaller nations.”
“Quasi-national entities,” Rudi corrected. “Polities.”
Dariusz snorted. “Sanjaks. Margravates. Principalities. Länder. Europe sinks back into the Eighteenth Century.”
“More territory for you,” Rudi observed.
“The same territory,” Dariusz said. “More frontiers. More red tape. More borders. More border police.”
Rudi shrugged.
“Consider Hindenberg, for example,” said Dariusz. “What must that have been like? You go to bed in Wrocław, and you wake up in Breslau. ­­What must that have been like?”
Except that it hadn’t happened overnight. What had happened to Wrocław and Opole and the little towns and villages inbetween had taken a long, bitter time, and if you followed the news it was obvious that for the Poles the matter wasn’t settled yet.
“Consider the days after World War Two,” Rudi said. “Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin meet at Yalta. You go to bed in Breslau and wake up the next morning in Wrocław.”
Dariusz smiled and pointed his fork at him, conceding the point.
There was a brief lull in the conversation.
“I have a cousin in Hindenberg,” Max mused.
Dariusz looked at him. “For that matter,” he said, “why don’t you live there yourself? You’re Silesian.”
Max grunted.
“Do you see much of your cousin?” Dariusz asked.
Max shrugged. “Travel is difficult. Visas and so forth. I have a Polish passport, he is a citizen of Hindenberg.”
“But he telephones you, yes? Emails you?”
Max shook his head. “Polish Government policy,” he rumbled.
Dariusz pointed at Rudi. “You see? You see the heartache such things can cause?”
Rudi poured himself another drink, thinking that this discussion had become awfully specific all of a sudden.
“So,” Dariusz said to Max. “How long is it since you were in contact with your cousin?”
“Some time,” Max agreed thoughtfully, as if the subject had not occurred to him for a while. “Even the post is uncertain, these days.”
“A scandal,” Dariusz muttered. “A scandal.”
Rudi drank his drink and stood up to go, just to see what would happen.
What happened was that Dariusz and Max continued to stare off into their respective distances, considering the unfairness of Hindenberg and Poland’s attitude towards it. Rudi sat down again and looked at them.
“So here we are,” he said finally. “Two men with Polish passports who would find it difficult to get a visa to enter Hindenberg. And one Estonian who can practically walk across the border unmolested.”
Dariusz seemed to regain consciousness. His expression brightened. “Of course,” he said. “You’re Estonian, aren’t you.”
Rudi sucked his teeth and poured another drink.
“Rudi’s an Estonian, Max,” Dariusz said.
Rudi rubbed his eyes. “Is it,” he asked, “drugs?”
Dariusz looked at him, and for a moment Rudi thought that, under the correct circumstances, the little mafioso might be quite a scary person. “No,” said Dariusz.
“Fissile material?”
Dariusz shook his head.
“Best you don’t know,” said Max.
“A favour,” Dariusz told him earnestly. “You do us a favour, we owe you a favour.” He smiled. “That can’t be entirely bad, can it?”
It could be bad in any number of unforeseen ways. Rudi silently cursed himself. He should have just served the food and gone home.
“How do I make the delivery?”
“Well,” Dariusz said, scratching his head, “that’s more or less up to you. And it’s not a delivery.”

Later that night, stepping out of the shower, Rudi caught sight of himself in the mirror over the sink. He took a towel off the rail and stood looking at his reflection.
Well, there he was. A little shorter than average. Slim. Short mousy brown hair. Bland, inoffensive face; not Slavic, not Aryan, not anything, really. No sign of the Lapp heritage his father had always claimed for the family. Hazel eyes. The odd nick here and there, medals of his life as a chef. That scar on his forearm from an overturned wok in Vilnius, the one just above it from the time he slipped in The Turk’s kitchen in Riga and the paring knife he was carrying got turned around somehow and went straight through his uniform sleeve and the skin and muscle beneath.
“Don’t run in my kitchen!” The Turk had shouted at him. Then he had bandaged Rudi’s arm and called for an ambulance.
Rudi lifted his right hand above his head and turned so he could see the long curving scar that started just above his hipbone and ended beside his right nipple. Not a kitchen accident, this one. Skinheads, the day he tried to find work in Warnemünde. He still didn’t know whether they had meant to kill him or just scare him, and he thought that even they had not been sure. He had taken it as an omen that his wanderings along the Baltic coast were over, and he headed inland, first to Warsaw, then Kraków.

The first thing Max did after concluding his job interview was hold out a mop.
“I’ve done all that,” Rudi protested, pointing to the envelope containing his references which Max was holding in his other hand. “Riga, Tallinn…”
“You want to work in my kitchen, first you clean it,” Max told him. “Then we’ll see.”
Rudi really considered walking out of Restauracja Max right there and then, considered going out onto Floriańska and walking back down to the station and catching a train away from this polluted little city, but he was low on cash and the job came with a cramped little room up ten flights of stairs above the restaurant and he was just tired of travelling for the moment, so he took the mop, telling himself that this was only temporary, that as soon as he had adequate funds he’d be off again in search of a kitchen that appreciated him.
He pushed that mop for eight months before Pani Stasia, Max’s fearsome chef, even allowed him to approach food. By then he was locked into a battle of wills with the wizened little woman, and the only way he was going to leave Max’s kitchen was feet first.

Looking back, it seemed astounding to him that he had stood so much. He’d done this for Sergei in Tallinn, and for The Turk, and for Big Ron in that appalling kitchen in Wilno, but for Pani Stasia there was something gratingly personal about it, as if she had made it her life’s work to break him. She yelled constantly at him. “Bring this, bring that. Clean this, clean that. So you call this clean, Baltic prick? Hurry, hurry. Don’t run in my kitchen! Faster! Faster!”
He was by no means the only member of the crew to catch Pani Stasia’s wrath. She treated everyone equally. One of her hip joints was deformed, and she walked with the aid of a black lacquered carbon fibre cane as thin as a pencil and as strong as a girder. Everyone, even Max, had heard the whistle of Pani Stasia’s cane at some time or other as it described a swift arc towards the backs of their legs.

It was understood in the business that great chefs could be violently temperamental, and if one wanted to study under them one had to endure all kinds of invective and physical violence. The Turk, who was an outstanding chef, had once knocked Rudi unconscious with a single punch for overcooking a portion of asparagus. Pani Stasia was not an outstanding chef. She was a competent chef working in a little Polish restaurant. But something about her fury lit a slumbering resistance in him which told him that this nasty little old woman was not going to drive him from her kitchen, was not going to wear him down.
So he mopped and cleaned and washed up and the skin on his hands reddened and cracked and bled and his legs hurt so much that some nights he could barely climb up to his cubbyhole in the attic. He kept going, refused to give in.
Pani Stasia, sensing the one-man resistance movement which had sprung up in her kitchen, focused her attention on Rudi. This made him popular with the other staff, who no longer had to suffer quite so much.
One day, for some imagined slight, she chased him from the kitchen in an access of rage extraordinary even by her standards, limping after him surprisingly quickly and labouring him about the head and shoulders with her cane. One whistling blow split his left earlobe and left him deaf in that ear for hours. One of the cooks ran out into the restaurant and told Max that Pani Stasia was killing Rudi, and when Max did nothing the cook went to the phone in the entranceway and called the police, who decided that their assets were best deployed elsewhere that evening and didn’t bother to respond to the call.
Max found Rudi sometime later squatting down in the alley beside the restaurant, the shoulder and arm of his whites spotted with blood.
“You’d be better off leaving,” Max told him.
Rudi looked up at the owner and shook his head.
Max watched him for a few moments, then nodded and reached down a hand to help him up.

It went on and on, until one night after closing time he was mopping the floor and she came up behind him almost soundlessly and raised her cane and he turned and caught it as it whistled towards him and for almost a minute she squeaked and struggled and swore and tried to pull the cane from his grasp. Finally, she stopped struggling and swearing and looked up at him with hot, angry eyes.
He let go of the cane and she snatched it back and stood looking at him for a few moments longer. Then she turned and stomped across the kitchen towards the exit.

The next morning, Max greeted him with the news of a pay rise and a promotion.
Not that this made much material difference. He still had to mop and clean and fetch and carry, and he still had to suffer Pani Stasia’s fury. Now, however, she expected him to learn to cook as well.
She punished every mistake, no matter how small. Once, half conscious with exhaustion, he put a fresh batch of salad into a bowl with some which had been standing already prepared for some minutes, and she almost beat him black and blue.

But he did learn. The first thing he learned was that, if he wanted to remain in Pani Stasia’s kitchen, he was going to have to forget his four-year drift along the Baltic coast. The things he had learned from The Turk and the other chefs he’d worked under meant nothing to the little old woman.
Fractionally, month after month, her periods of displeasure grew further and further apart, until one day, almost eighteen months after he first set foot in Restauracja Max, she allowed him to prepare one cover.
She wouldn’t allow it to be served, however. She prepared a duplicate cover herself and sent it out into the restaurant instead, and then set about tasting Rudi’s attempt.

As Rudi watched her he became aware that the whole kitchen had fallen silent. He looked around and found himself overwhelmed by what he thought of as a movie moment. Everyone in the kitchen was watching Pani Stasia. Even Max, standing just inside the swing door that led into the restaurant. It was, Rudi, thought, that moment in a film where the callow greenhorn finally gains the grudging respect of his mentor. He also knew that life wasn’t like the movies, and that Pani Stasia would spit the food out onto the tiled floor and then beat him senseless.
In the event, life and the movies converged just enough for Pani Stasia to turn and lean on her cane and look at her audience. She would, she told them finally, perhaps consider feeding Rudi’s service to her dog.
All the crew applauded. Rudi never heard them. He thought later that he was the only one of all of them to notice just how old Pani Stasia suddenly seemed.
She died that Summer, and Rudi simply took over. There was no formal announcement from Max, no new contract, nothing at all. Not even a pay rise. He simply inherited the kitchen. He and Max were the only mourners at the funeral.
“I never found out anything about her,” he said as they watched the coffin being lowered into the ground.
“She was,” Max said, “my mother.”