Review: A Rule Against Murder

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008.

Summary: The Gamache’s getaway to a peaceful lodge is interrupted, first by an unloving family reunion, and then by the death of one of the family, crushed under a statue. Meanwhile, the naming of a child forces Gamache to face his own family history.

Manoir Bellechasse is one of the most exclusive and peaceful getaways in Quebec, and just a stone’s throw from Three Pines. Armand and Reine Marie Gamache have come here for anniversaries for many years, reveling in the hospitality of Madame Dubois. Displaced by a family reunion of a demanding and unhappy family, they are once again in the smaller back room where they had spent their first visit to the auberge. They are treated by the family as “shopkeepers” who didn’t belong. They observe and befriend the strange child, Bean, whose gender is unknown. S/he is Mariannas’s child, a quirky single mom. There is Thomas, the seeming business success, Julia, perfect it seems in every way, but recovering from divorcing her husband, in prison for securities fraud. They talk disparagingly of “Spot and Clare” called the greediest of all. Given this, imagine the surprise of the Gamaches when they discover that Spot and Clare are Peter and Clara Morrow, artists from Three Pines who have become good friends. The family is together for their mother Irene, and their barely tolerated step-father, Bert Finney. The father, Charles Morrow had died some years earlier and would be remembered by the unveiling of a statue that Manoir Bellechasse agreed to give a home in exchange for a substantial gift.

The place to which they have come offers peace, attentive hospitality, and safety, away from the world’s troubles. Madame Dubois and her deceased husband turned an old hunting lodge into a premiere getaway. She remembers her husband in every corner of the inn. Pierre Patenaude is the maitre d’ and along with Chef Veronique are the two permanent residents, alongside Madame Dubois. Pierre oversees the wait staff, young people from all over English-speaking Canada to learn French, and the skills of serving and attending to the needs of guests. Most are trying to “find” themselves. One, Elliot from Vancouver, the same city as Julia, is the exception to the rest who are grateful for Pierre and Veronique’s attentions. He is determined to defy Pierre.

The statue of Charles is unveiled, surprising all with its expression of sadness. That night, the family’s ugliness unfolds in front of the Gamache’s. Julie throws a cup to the floor, crying out “Stop it, I’ve had enough.” and proceeds to eviscerate each of her siblings, including Peter, who she calls cruel and greedy. She concludes by looking around at all of them, and says “I know Daddy’s secret.” Overnight, a terrible storm hits. The next morning, Gamache is aroused from his breakfast reveries by screams, coming from the gardener, Colleen, who has found Julia crushed beneath the statue of her father, arms out as in an embrace.

The question is not only who could have done this but how. The heavy statue would be impossible to push off the pedestal. Furthermore, there were no marks on the pedestal. Even the sculptor has no explanation for this. Gamache, de Beauvoir, and LaCoste gather, and patiently unravel the stories of the family, and those who work at the inn. But “how” eludes them.

Meanwhile Gamache wrestles with his own family’s past, thrown in his face both by his son Daniel, and by the Finney family. His father had been a pacifist, and had been accused of lack of courage. This is brought up by the family in their anger and grief. But his son has gotten their first. The son wants to name their first child, if he is a boy, Honore’, Gamache’s father’s name. Because of the disgrace with which his father was regarded, Armand opposes this, at the risk of estranging his son.

Penny continues to develop Gamache, exploring the ways his father’s life, who he lost at eleven, shaped who he is. We also discover that Peter Morrow may be a more complicated character than we thought, the one other character in a previous murder that Gamache thought capable of becoming a murderer. The conversations between him and Gamache offer Peter the chance to expose the complications of his story.

After the intricate plot and tense climax involving Bean, Gamache sits with Bert Finney on the dock by the lake. Throughout the book, it was thought that Bert, an accountant was doing his sums. It turns out that he was, counting his blessings. He leaves us with a stunning piece of wisdom:

We’re all blessed and we’re all blighted, Chief Inspector,” said Finney. “Every day each of us does our sums. The question is, what do we count?”

Review: The Cruelest Month

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Gamache #3), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2007.

Summary: Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder during a seance at the old Hadley House while forces within the Surete’ (and on his team) plot his downfall to avenge the Arnot case.

It’s April and Three Pines is coming to life. It seems that the greatest danger is getting between a mother bear and her cubs in the nearby woods. Then Jeanne Chauvet arrives at Gabri and Olivier’s bed and breakfast. She is a Wiccan and Gabri and Olivier convince her to hold a séance on Good Friday evening. Not much happens except that Monsieur Beliveau, the grocer, proposes doing a second séance at the old Hadley House, empty since the last murder associated with the house. Among those present are Odile Montmagny, Gilles Sandon, Monsieur Beliveau, Jeanne Chauvet, Hazel Smythe and her daughter Sophie, and Madeleine Favreau. Madeleine has only lived in Three Pines a few years, coming to stay with her schoolmate Hazel who always adored her after a divorce and a cancer diagnosis. Really, just about everyone seemed to adore her, save Odile who is jealous of her husband’s attraction to her. During the séance, there is a sudden thump, and when the light go on, Madeleine is dead with a look of terror on her face. Apparently not everyone adored Madeleine. Subsequent tests find a lethal dose of ephedra in her bloodstream. And gradually as the case unfolds, it emerges that all the above named had motive to wish her dead.

Gamache and his team are assigned the case. And despite her attitudes and suspicion that she is part of the conspiracy to bring down Gamache, he takes her on his team. Before his departure is good friend Michel Brebeuf warns him of the growing storm of the allies of Inspector Arnot, who Gamache pursued because of his corruption, violating the codes of loyalty in the Sûreté. About the time of a late winter storm in Three Pines, the storm breaks in the form of a series of news articles casting suspicions on Gamache and his children. In one of the more exciting finishes of a mystery, the two plots collide at the old Hadley House as Gamache’s revelation of Madeleine’s murderer is interrupted with the revelation of those conspiring against Gamache.

Penny continues to develop Peter and Clara Morrow and Ruth Zardo. Clara is absorbed in her painting, preparing for the visit of an art dealer. Peter, also an artist, helps her break through a “block” and the result is so stunning that he realizes that she has surpasses him, sowing a seed of jealousy. It will be interesting to see where Penny takes this. Zardo features principally as the guardian of two goslings, one she helped hatch, only to discover that she sealed its death by not allowing it to struggle out of its shell, a parable of loving too well.

Gamache’s self-possession (except for when his children are attacked), his lack of overweening ambition, and the affection he has not only for his wife but his team make him a study in leadership. Penny’s ability to continue to develop her characters and maintain a sense of suspense, even while continuing to unfold the beauties of Three Pines evidences her skill as a writer. I only wonder why they don’t tear down the old Hadley house. All this leaves me looking forward to the next…and the next. What a delightful thought to realize I have thirteen to go (and Louise Penny might right some more before I get there)!

Review: All I Did Was Shoot My Man

All I Did Was Shoot My Man (A Leonid McGill Mystery #4), Walter Mosley. New York, Riverhead Press, 2012.

Summary: The release from prison of a woman framed in an insurance heist sets loose a string of murders, including an attempt on McGill’s life, even while he tries to find out who is behind the heist and the murders.

Eight years ago Leonid McGill was hired as a fixer to plant evidence in the storage locker of a woman, Zella Grisham, already arrested for wounding her boyfriend, who she caught with another woman. The evidence connected her with a heist of $58 million involving an insurance company. Now working as a New York private investigator, he works to get her released early and started in a new life. She doesn’t know he set her up.

Then people connected with the heist start getting murdered. He hides Zella away with a friend who owes him. Two foreign hired guns break in on McGill and his wife while he is sleeping. Impressively, the foreign guns end up dead. All this fuels McGill’s passion, or desire to atone for his wrong. Zella deserves better. Despite a warning from a detective in the NYPD, he pursues the case to find out who is masterminding the killings, and perhaps the heist.

McGill’s efforts to atone are not limited to his cases. His wife struggles with depression and drinking. Toward the end of the novel, his absentee, Marxist-revolutionary father gets in touch (there is significance to the name Leonid). His blood son’s lover is an ex-hooker from Belarus. He is trying to save his Katrina’s son Twill from pursuing a life of crime by training him as an investigator. Turns out he is good. Sent to investigate a rich family’s wayward son, he discovers there is far more to it than a case of falling in with the wrong people.

Walter Mosley is considered the dean of Black crime fiction writers. This might be described as New York noir, by turns gritty and sophisticated, moving from the streets to high powered corporate offices. There is quite a bit going on in this book, and a twisty primary plot. I’ve seen criticism of the one-dimensional female figures, and apart from troubled Katrina, this seems true–the men, even the bit players seem more interesting. For me, the most interesting part is McGill’s misdeeds (and current appetites), his sense of the wrongs he’s done, what can’t be undone and what he must try to do, if he can live long to do it.

This is my first Mosley read. Some like his Easy Rawlins stories better. With my limited exposure, I have to say interesting, but not at the top of my list of crime fiction writers, but the jury is not in.

Review: A Fatal Grace

A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2006.

Summary: An unliked but aspiring author comes to Three Pines and is murdered in front of a crowd at a curling match yet no one sees how it happened.

CC de Poitiers has just published a book, Be Calm, a mishmash philosophy of enlightenment through the suppression of emotion, symbolized by the color white. She hopes to launch a whole line of fashions and accessories around this idea. Yet for one maintaining control of emotion, she manages to make herself hateful to everyone around her–her lover and photographer Saul, her husband Richard Lyon, her daughter, Crie, and the people of Three Pines, where the family has purchased the old Hadley home.

She manages to disrupt the holiday cheer of the village, first by brutally silencing her daughter’s beautiful singing in church on Christmas eve, and then by dying in front of everyone at a traditional curling match following a holiday breakfast. Only it wasn’t a natural death. It was murder by electrocution, when she stood up to straighten a lawn chair askew. Yet none of the witnesses saw anything, and an electrocution of this sort was difficult to achieve, requiring a number of improbable factors to coincide. Who did this, and how, and why? Several items become key pieces of evidence–an ornament of the three pines with the letter L inscribed, a discarded videotape with one section distorted from repeated pauses, and an old pendant of a screaming eagle.

Gamache is called in, his second case in Three Pines. He had been reading an unsolved case file of a homeless vagrant woman who had been strangled in Montreal. Seemingly unrelated, Gamache and his team will discover the two cases are connected. Gamache will also discover that an earlier effort, the Arnot affair, to deal with corruption in the Surete is not over, that there are maneuverings going on to bring him down. One sign of this was the assignment of Agent Yvette Nichol to his team unrequested after her disastrous performance the last time she was in Three Pines. One compensation is a young detective, Robert Lemieux, who seems a quick study and fits in well with the team.

Some of the finest writing comes in the conversations of Gamache with Emilie Longpre, one of the “Three Graces” painted by Clara Morrow, with evidence of a fourth, missing Grace. The three include her, “Mother” Bea Meyer and Kaye Thompson, friends through life. Emilie is not “L,” whose son died young and was remembered by her for a signature violin piece he’d learned. She had been moved by Crie’s singing, and when she heard CC’s attack on her, was troubled by her failure to come to the unusual girl’s defense.

It’s not all conversation. There are drives through blinding blizzards, the panic of being trapped in a burning house, and a dramatic rescue. There are flashbacks, as Gamache and Jean Guy visit the old Hadley house, which figured in the terrifying ending of the first novel.

Of course there is the wonderful cast of Three Pines, Gabri and Olivier, Peter and Clara Morrow, and the curmudgeonly poet, Ruth Zardo, whose “beer walks” each day are finally explained. For the uninitiated, there is also an introduction to curling, and the high drama of “clearing the house,” which came at the very moment CC was electrocuted.

This was the second of Penny’s Gamache novels, good enough to win an Agatha Award in 2007. One revels in reading a work with no one-dimensional characters but real people with histories, hopes and secret and not-so-secret wounds. What a joy to glimpse the comfortable, companionable relationship of Reine-Marie and Armand, so healthy and “adult.” And despite the fact that it is the site of so many murders, Penny’s description of Three Pines makes it one of the favorite places in fiction where people would love to live. I know I would.

Review: Rostnikov’s Vacation

Rostnikov’s Vacation (Porfiry Rostnikov #7), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2012.

Summary: Rostnikov, on vacation in Yalta, learns that the death of a fellow investigator on vacation was murder, and that top investigators throughout Moscow are being sent on vacation at the time of a major political rally.

Porfiry Rostnikov is on vacation in Yalta. Rather, he was sent on vacation. He accepts it because it is a chance for recuperation of his wife, Sarah, from brain surgery. He meets another investigator, Georgi Vasilievich, has pleasant conversations with him in the evenings, until Vasilievich turns up dead from an apparent heart attack, only it turns out to be murder. The signs show that his killers inflicted painful interrogation first, and searched his room.

Meanwhile, his assistant Emil Karpo is investigating the murder of an East German, until he is also ordered on vacation. He stretches his departure to finish his investigation while the others on the team pursue a band of computer thieves preying on Jewish computer specialists, resulting in Sasha Tkach discovering he is all too human, failing his partner Zelach, who winds up in the hospital. He ends up joining Karpo.

What is it Vasilievich had discovered? What connection did this have with all the top investigators around Moscow being sent on vacation? Who was doing this and why, in a Moscow caught in a power struggle between Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin? And why does all this coincide with a major political rally?

You probably have a sense of where this is going. That’s what made this diverting rather than riveting. You want to see how Rostnikov and his team figure out what’s going on. There are predictable instances of things being not as they seem. Perhaps one of the reasons Kaminsky sends Rostnikov on vacation is it offers a chance to develop other characters on the team–Tkach, Karpo, and even Zelach.

This was not the most outstanding in the series. Kaminsky develops Rostnikov’s team, explores the labyrinthine maneuverings of the Kremlin with an engaging enough plot to hold your interest. Sometimes, that’s all a book needs to do.

Review: The Murder on the Links

the murder on the links

The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot #2), Agatha Christie. New York Harper Collins, 2011 (first published in 1923).

Summary: A man who writes Poirot from the north of France of his life being in danger is found dead by Poirot under circumstances similar to another murder many years earlier that is key to Poirot unraveling the case.

For golfing fans, I hate to disappoint you, but apart from a murder taking place in a grave dug where a bunker for a golf course was to be sited, there is little about golf in this mystery. What you will find here is Agatha Christie at the height of her powers in one of her early Poirots, creating an intricate plot taking us in a succession of turns and suspects before the revelation of the true murderer.

I won’t take you on all the plot turns but will lay out enough to hopefully entice you to read one of Christie’s best. Hercule Poirot is in England with his companion, Arthur Hastings, when he receives a letter from the north of France from millionaire Paul Renaud, speaking of his life in danger, and requesting Poirot’s help. Poirot and Hastings immediately depart, only to arrive with the police on scene, investigating the murder of Monsieur Renaud. Madame Renaud had been found tightly bound by two strangers who questioned Monsieur Renaud and then took him out. His body was found in a newly dug grave stabbed in the back with a letter opener given to Madame Renaud by her son Jack, who had been sent to sail to South America.

Part of the fun in this story is the rivalry between Poirot and Giraud, the Sureté detective who crawls around everywhere but dismisses the piece of led pipe near the body, the dismissal of Jack to South America and the chauffeur, leaving only three female servants and an old gardener, a door left open, a piece of paper that was part of check with the name “Duveen.” Who was the mysterious visitor in Renaud’s study the evening before his death? Why payments of 200,000 francs from him into Madame Daubreuil’s account, a neighbor who frequently visited? Why were their footprints matching the gardener’s boots in one bed, while the other had none?

While Giraud keeps investigating, Poirot, troubled with similarities to a murder involving a Madame Beroldy, goes to Paris. Meanwhile, a young woman, “Cinderella” who Hastings previously met runs into him, hear’s the story of the murder and wants to see the scene. Afterward, the murder weapon goes missing, only to turn up in the back of a second corpse, a tramp dressed in nice clothes that in fact had died long before the weapon was thrust into him.

Then we learn that Jack had actually been in town the night of the murder. Jack was in love with Marthe Daubreuil, Madame Daubreuil’s daughter. We also learn that Jack’s father had changed his will, cutting Jack out because he insisted in his love affair, even though he had a girl he dumped, the twin sister of “Cinderella,” Dulcie Duveen, the woman who had been in Renaud’s study the night he was murdered.

As you can see, there are a whole host of suspects. Giraud fixes on Jack Renaud, who all but admits to the crime. Yet Poirot is not so sure. Not all is as it seems, but this plot has more twists and turns before the denouement, including a period where Hastings, for love, works against Poirot. This is one you want to read closely, paying attention to the clues, following the turns, trying to spot the red herrings. This is great, good fun–Christie at her best!

Review: Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse

Maigret

Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse(Inspector Maigret #58), Georges Simenon, translated by Ros Schwartz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2019 (originally published 1962).

Summary: Maigret investigates a murder of a loved and respected retired businessman, with no hint of motive from family, neighbors or associates–all good people.

René Josselin has been found dead in his apartment, seated in his favorite chair, two bullets to the heart, fired from his own pistol, missing from his apartment. His wife and daughter had been out at the theatre, witnessed by the people who sat behind them. His son-in-law, a devoted physician, had stopped by earlier in the evening for their favorite pastime, a game of chess. There had been no disaffection and the son had left on a call that ended up being a false call.

The men Josselin had sold his business to were faithfully meeting the terms, thriving, and appreciative of Josselin. Neighbors, if they knew the Josselins, spoke of them as good people, and from what Maigret can discover, they were good people themselves. As far as he can tell, everyone around René Josselin were good people, and yet Josselin had been murdered.

Then puzzling, stubborn facts emerge. Madame Josselin and her daughter Veronique do not seem entirely forthcoming. The motive obviously was not robbery but there was one other thing missing–a key to a room in the servant quarters, a room that had been empty but occupied the night of the murder. Another dead end. The fingerprints did not match any known criminal. Then there is the restaurateur who witnessed the same individual meeting both Monsieur or Madame Josselin right before the murder.

Maigret knows there is a killer out there. He struggles with caring for grieving people and the need to discover what they are hiding. Who could possibly had a motive to kill Monsieur Josselin?

I had watched several adaptations of Simenon’s novels on Mystery. I found that like many of the detectives I enjoyed the most, Inspector Maigret was both a gentleman and a thinker, careful not to jump to conclusions but willing to pursue his intuitions. Simenon unfolds a story of step by step investigation, deliberate without being plodding, that moves steadily toward a conclusion, one that we didn’t see coming until it arrived. A good story about good people–and a killer. Kudos to Penguin Classics for reissuing this series!

Mysteries I Would Re-read

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Mystery Writers,” by Nana B Agyei licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the second installment of “books I would re-read” I consider mysteries. This strikes me as perhaps a peculiar category because once you’ve read a mystery, you know how it turns out. That is, unless you’ve forgotten, which for some of the mysteries on this page, is the case for me. For all of them, it is the mastery of the story-telling, how the author has woven the plot. So here are some mysteries so good, I’d be happy to enjoy them again.

G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday. This fantastic story, subtitled “A Nightmare” concerns the infiltration of an anarchist group, where nothing that occurs is as it seems. A wild romp!

Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Many consider this one of her best. Poirot comes out of retirement to solve this murder, and I loved the surprise ending.

Agatha Christie, 4:50 from Paddington. Mrs. McGillicuddy is sure she has witnessed a murder, yet no body is found. Enter her good friend, Miss Marple! With Agatha Christie, I just had to include two to get in a Poirot and a Marple.

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone. This is considered the first and one of the greatest mysteries, centering around a diamond from India. Collins created the art. Another of his masterpieces is The Woman in White.

P.D. James, A Taste for Death. James’ Adam Dalgliesh, a poet and detective, has some of the most penetrating insights into the human soul of any detective. This is one of the best in the series, but it might be time for me to re-read them all!

Charlie Lovett, The Bookman’s Tale. Peter Byerly has recently lost is wife at a young age and moved to the village of Kingham, England, living in the cottage he and Amanda renovated just before her death. In an effort to resume his bookselling career he peruses the shelves of a local bookseller. Inside a volume on literary forgeries, he discovers a watercolor that must be a hundred years old that could have been a painting of his wife. His quest to find the origin of this work results in his being framed for a murder.

Louise Penny, Still Life. This work introduces us to Chief Inspector Gamache and Three Pines. I am new to this series and only beginning my first reading. But I can tell there is plenty here for re-readings should I live that long!

Elizabeth Peters, The Crocodile on the Sandbank. This is the first of Elizabeth Peters’ (Barbara Mertz) Amelia Peabody stories. My wife and I had ten years of delight reading through this series, but that was a decade ago.

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors. The setting, in a country church, the nine bells that are the nine tailors, provide a wonderful backdrop for a mystery regarding a mysterious scrap of paper, a grave with the wrong body in it, and an absent-minded rector. Many consider this Sayers’ best. I concur.

Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar. Brat Farrar is an orphan, a doppelganger of Simon Ashby’s missing brother Patrick, and is persuaded by a former friend of Simon’s to impersonate the brother. He succeeds, yet unknown to him, Simon is on to him but does not say anything. The plot hinges on discovering why.

I’m sure you will have many others to add to this list and that you might have a few of your own. But these, especially the ones that are part of a series, offer the promise of many diverting evenings sheltering at home.

 

Review: Still Life

still life

Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache #1), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2005.

Summary: The suspicious death of Jane Neal a day after her painting is accepted into an art show brings Gamache and his team to Three Pines, and to the grim conclusion that someone in this small community is a murderer.

Jane Neal was an elderly retired teacher, seemingly beloved by everyone in the secluded town of Three Pines, near the Quebec/US border. Everyone had heard she was an artist. Yet no one had been allowed beyond her kitchen or saw her work. That is, until she entered a piece into the local Arts Williamsburg show–a painting called Fair Day. At first the jurors thought it was a child’s drawing, but then felt there was a peculiar power to this piece. When Jane learns the painting was accepted, she invited all her friends to a party the night of the show opening, at her house–Olivier and Gabri, the gay couple who owned the Bistro, Myrna, the bookstore owner, Ruth Zardo, the brilliant and curmudgeonly poet, Clara and Peter, an artist couple, and Ben Hadley, a bachelor artist whose mother Timmer had recently died after a battle with cancer.

The next morning Jane was found dead in the forest by Ben Hadley. She died of an arrow through the heart, an arrow removed. And so Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team discover Three Pines. At first the investigation appears to indicate a hunting accident, perhaps from a hunter from away who thought he had spotted a deer. Then a troubled youth, or his father. The youth had been part of a group throwing manure from a flower bed at Olivier and Gabri, mocking them for being gay. Jane, on the morning before she died yelled at them to stop. Suspicion then turned to Yolande, Jane’s niece, who thought she would inherit Jane’s estate, or her uncouth husband or son. Eventually the focus turns to those in the cafe who had received Jane’s invitation. Among these people, all of whom seemed friends, and friends of Jane, there was a murderer.

While Gamache and his core team of Jean Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle LaCoste work together as a well-oiled machine, a new agent, Yvette Nichol, the daughter of immigrants, tries so hard to succeed on her first assignment that she fails to listen to Gamache, follow through on leads, and asserts herself where she is not welcome. Gamache, after much effort, must send her home. Yet her insights do move the investigation forward, leaving us wonder if this is the last we will see of her.

I picked up one of the books of this series (#10), loved it, and was told by others who like Penny’s work that I had to go back to the beginning. So I have, and I would say it was worth it, and I intend to go on. Penny has created a lovable mix of townsfolk and an investigative team. Gamache is the classic detective, seemingly slow at times, who watches, listens, and thinks, and tries to cultivate these virtues in others, including Nichol. There is a winsome integrity about him, typified in his willingness to accept a suspension rather than arrest a man he considered innocent.

I have encountered many who wish Three Pines was a real town, a place of rural beauty and rich local culture. In this book, we learn the reason for the name. We also discover for all its beauty and seemingly serene atmosphere, it is hardly a place of still life. Penny reminds us that deep within people we think we know, there are hidden depths, and hidden secrets, that sometimes blossom into exquisite beauty, or the most terrible acts. In words quoted by Jane from W.H. Auden the night before she died:

Evil is unspectacular and always human,
and shares our bed and eats at our own table.

Or in words on Jane Neal’s mirror, words Agent Nichol did not yet understand, “You’re looking at the problem.”

Review: A Cold Red Sunrise

a cold red sunrise

A Cold Red Sunrise (Porfiry Rostnikov #5), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2012.

Summary: After making enemies in the Kremlin, a demoted Porfiry Rostnikov is sent to Siberia to solve the murder of a Russian official, while others are working to undermine Rostnikov, and prevent a solution to the murder.

A Russian commissar had been sent to Tumsk in Siberia to investigate the suspicious circumstances behind the suspicious death of a dissident doctor’s daughter, a dissident soon to leave for the West. On the way to a hearing in the early morning hours, he is killed by a mysterious killer who stabs him through the eye with an icicle.

Porfiry Rostnikov has been demoted after offending enemies in the Kremlin in the pursuit of justice. Working with two younger assistants, Emil Karpo and Sasha Tkach, who have followed him into the backwater of solving low-level crimes, they work to stem the efforts of theft rings and thugs harassing locals. That is, until Rostnikov is assigned to investigate the death of Commissar Rutkin in far off Tumsk in Siberia. Karpo accompanies him, order by the KGB to report back on the case. Another official goes along as well to observe him. Tumsk is where they send exiles and it can be wondered if it will become Rostnikov’s home.

He methodically pursues his work, interviewing and befriending the ex-priest Galich, the exiled general Krasnikov, who is furiously working on a secret manuscript, and Dr. Samsonov and his attractive wife Ludmilla. He and Karpo interview Mrasnikov, the aged caretaker of the People’s Hall. He saw something but fears to speak. For some reason, he is only allowed to investigate the Commissar’s death, even though he suspects that death is connected to the death of Samsonov’s daughter

Rostnikov only has a few days to solve the case, made more urgent by news that his wife is facing a life-threatening condition requiring brain surgery. Between interviews, he works out with weights, and thinks. But what moves things forward is an attempt on his life that results in the serious wounding of the old man Mrasnikov. The killer has been careless. And Rostnikov knows it.

This mystery won an Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel in 1989. The layered plot, with what is going on behind the scenes against Rostnikov, and with the KGB, the relations Rostnikov forms with everyone around him from his fellow detectives, and even the potential suspects, and the “presence” of Rostnikov as events come to their culmination all contribute to a great read. Many fictional detectives fight not only crime but the system. Soviet Russia in the 1980’s offers a unique setting, but confronts Rostnikov with the risks of cynicism or bitterness many detectives face. The Rostnikov character is striking as one with a calling to fight crime, a knowledge of the criminal mind, of the possibilities and limits of his situation, and someone utterly secure with himself.

I hope you get to know him.