Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Darkening Field

William Ryan
The Darkening Field

Minotaur Books, 2012

Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia, who showed himself in a stolen icon case as the smartest detective and loyal to the State citizen, is again asked by the NKVD to assist in another investigation. In Odessa at the film studio young Masha Lenskaya mysteriously died, who was the mistress of Yezhov. She’s been found hanged, and the NKVD suspects that this case is not so clear as it seems.

Korolev is immediately sent to Odessa, who must pretend that he’s on vacation. At the studio Korolev will receive all the necessary help so that he can investigate questionable death, keeping his mouth shut. Komsomol member and excellent pupil, Lenskaya didn’t have any enemies, but from at the beginning the examination shows that the girl was murdered. In Odessa suddenly appears a gang of Thieves, led by an authority amongst the Moscow Thieves, Kolya («the only higher authority amongst Thieves in Moscow was God, or maybe Comrade Stalin»), that makes contact with Korolev and warns him of anti-Soviet conspiracy. Korolev must find Lenskaya’s killer, and at the same time to try to deal with the threat of rebellion.

William Ryan's previous book The Holy Thief was bizzare mutant, attractive primarily because of mixing British humor and terse prose with the realities of Soviet everyday life. This book, the second in a series about Moscow CID detective Korolev, is devoid of charm of the first. Ryan took Korolev from smelling of fear Moscow and threw him into the devoid of distinctive features agricultural college. People here still call each other "comrade" and "citizen", mention Stalin, but the spirit of the Soviet Union weathered. Uprising, arms smuggling, counter-revolutionaries - the novel could easily occur in Latin America, one of the young Thieves even says «jefe».

All that is left in The Darkening Field are sluggish plot and a few jokes. The strongest part of the novel is the first chapter, where Korolev in the workers' hostel is arresting a drunk who killed his brother. This chapter is the highest class:

«The hostel was split into two main rooms, with a cooking and washing area separating the two, and the further they advanced towards the centre of the building the less the noise of his boots was evident. There were other noises - coughing, the rustle of clothes, the snoring of sleeping workers, dripping water, the cluck of a chicken picking its way between the beds. There was still no sign of Shishkin, but that might be the least of their problems. Women and children were being ushered into the cubicles and young men woken from their sleep to stand and examine the Militiamen with bleary eyes. Korolev could hear people following them through the building, but he didn't look round. If he looked, he'd have to confront them, and that would mean trouble. He squared his shoulders and marched on, feeling the sudden heat from the cooking area, where red-faced women crouched over primus stoves - the sound of them like the roar of a blast furnace».

I wish Korolev soon returned to Moscow and began a new case.

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