Originally Published in 1981 – I read the kindle version from MysteriousPress.com
On the eve of a political dissident’s trial he is murdered by means of a rusty sickle, left at the scene. Is it a political crime? A crime of passion? Or perhaps a random act of violence which does not occur in the Soviet state… It is assigned to Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov to investigate. But, where to begin… well it doesn’t take long for the hammer to drop and now there are two murders on his plate.
This is the first in the Inspector Rostnikov series and I found it to be quite the experience. I felt myself really drawn into the city and its people. The story is peppered with both the broad brush strokes of scenic narrative as well as the pinpoint vignettes of interactions which make the story come to life. For example in a simple act of questioning witnesses we see the psyche of the average muscovite.
“He was a foreigner?” tried Karpo.
“Yes,” went on the old man, “definitely a foreigner, English or American, he…”
“Did he speak?” tried Karpo.
“I…I…,” stammered the old man, anxious to please.
“No,” said the son, hugging the blanket over his vulnerable legs. “He said nothing. He just ran down Petro Street.”
Pytor Roshkov had decided to fix his eyes on the fascinating painting on the wall of the first meeting of the Presidium.
“Then you don’t know if he was a foreigner,” Karpo continued.
“No,” said the son.
“Yes,” said the father.
“If you would try less hard to please me and harder to simply tell the truth, you will get out of here much faster and back to your home or work,” Karpo said.
You can feel the weariness of exasperation coming through Inspector Karpo. The way Kaminsky just drops these little interactions through the novel makes this story so immersive. I really had the feeling of being transported to another time and place.
I am very much looking forward to the next book in this series “A Black Knight in Red Square”
“Though there are rules and regulations, restrictions and requirements, it is no easier in Moscow to find a killer or a saint than it is in New York, Tokyo, or Rome. If the world does not know this, the police do, and so they learn to value patience and good shoes.”