In his debut 2003 novel Amok, Polish author Krystian Bala describes the torture and murder of a young woman whose hands are bound behind her back with a cord that is then looped to form a noose around her neck. According to a judge's ruling this week in the western Polish city of Wroclaw, Bala was drawing not on his imagination for that scene, but on his own experience.
The author, 34, has been sentenced to 25 years in jail for having a role in the murder of a Polish businessman whose body was discovered in the river Oder with a cord binding his hands behind his back that was also looped into a noose around his neck. "The evidence gathered gives sufficient basis to say that Krystian Bala committed the crime of leading the killing," the judge, Lidia Hojenska, told a packed courtroom. She added: "There are certain shared characteristics between the book's narrator and the author."
Prosecutor Liliana Lukasiewicz told TIME that the sentence, in her view, fits the crime. "We are satisfied," she said. Bala, who has protested his innocence and who contends that the details in his book were gleaned from press reports, is planning to appeal, according to his lawyer.
The verdict caps months of intense speculation in Poland about Bala's role in one of the grisliest murder cases in recent memory. The body of the victim, Dariusz Janiszewski, showing signs of torture, was discovered by fishermen in the river Oder four weeks after he went missing in 2000. But police were unable to make progress in their investigation, and six months later they shelved the case. The publication of Amok, a sex-driven potboiler about a group of sadists recounting their exploits and taunting police revived speculation about the murder. But it was another two years before an anonymous tip-off about the contents of the book prompted police to reopen their investigation.
In their arguments, prosecutors said that Janiszewski was believed to be seeing Bala's ex-wife at the time of the businessman's disappearance. (Bala has denied knowing him.) They also noted similarities between the character Chris in the novel, and the author, who also goes by that nickname while traveling abroad and in email communications. In addition, police traced the sale of the victim's mobile phone on an Internet auction site four days after his disappearance to an account registered to Bala. And they said that a phone card was used to place calls to the victim on the morning of his disappearance as well as to Bala's girlfriend and parents.
In Amok, which has turned out to be a best-seller in Poland, Chris is never caught and gets away with murder. Fiction imitated life, it would seem, but only so far.