Tag Archives: 1980’s

Red Chameleon – Stuart Kaminsky

Red Chameleon – This is the third Inspector Rostnikov novel. Published in 1985

I found it interesting that the novel mentions the transitions in Soviet leadership through the span of the prior novels, Death of A Dissident (1981) and A Black Knight in Red Square (1983) From Brezhnev to Andropov and then the death of Chernenko. From the climax of the second novel to the start of this third novel finds Chief Inspector Rostnikov demoted to simply Inspector Rostnikov, and it is due to this demotion that Procurator Khabolov, who succeeded Procurator Timofeyeva, assigned Rostnikov, along with his new leg-man the uninspired Comrade Zelach, to investigate an insignificant murder of an old Jew.

“In Moscow, the investigation of a crime is a question of jurisdiction, and the investigation of important crimes is an important question of jurisdiction. Minor crimes, and no one is quite sure what a minor crime is, are handled at the inquiry stage by MVD, the national police with headquarters in Moscow. Moscow itself is divided into twenty police districts, each responsible for crime within its area. However, if a case is considered important enough, a police inspector from central headquarters will be assigned. The doznaniye, or inquiry, is based on the frequently stated assumption that “every person who commits a crime is punished justly, and not a single innocent person subjected to criminal proceedings is convicted.” This is repeated so frequently by judges, procurators, and police that almost everyone in Moscow is sure it cannot be true.”

An old man is murdered in his bath and the only clues that Inspector Rostnikov has to go on is a very old photograph of four young men, and an old brass candlestick was taken from the scene. A very old photo of now very old men… who are they? Where are they? Are they even still alive? Well, at least one of them isn’t alive anymore. But who takes a simple old candlestick? It’s a question, a puzzle that draws the detective in Rostnikov to solve.

Along the way he, like Prometheus, tries to bring that spark to Comrade Zelach and ignite the detective in him.

“Zelach,” he said as they rode up the escalator, “do you think of me as a violent man?”

“No, chief inspector,” said Zelach indifferently. “There’s a stand on the corner. I have not eaten. Would it be all right if I bought some blinchiki?”

“It would be all right, Comrade Zelach,” Rostnikov said sarcastically, but the sarcasm was lost on Zelach. “Do you want to know where we are going?”

Zelach shrugged as they pressed through the morning crowd.

“In that case, we will let that be your surprise for the day.”

Meanwhile, we find our old friend Inspector Emil Karpo investigating a sniper at large in the city, and Inspector Sasha Tkach investigating a series of luxury car thefts. The pursuits of these investigations enable us a readers to again venture through the streets of Moscow and encounter the unique characters that populate the city… hell, this is as enjoyable as dogging Spenser around Boston!

Black Knight In Red Square – Stuart Kaminsky

Black Knight In Red Square – I read the 2012 MysteriousPress.com kindle edition of this novel.

This is the second in the Inspector Rostnikov series. There has been a murder, a poisoning of an American, two soviets and a Japanese citizen at a hotel in Moscow. The American was a journalist reporting on the Moscow Film Festival. The other victims were also connected with the festival. Is this just an isolated incident? Could there be a nefarious person or group who seeks to spoil an important cultural event?

Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and his trusted assistants, the idealistic Sasha Tkach and dedicated Emil Karpo set off to investigate. From swank hotels, to meeting with prostitutes in dark Metro Stations, and following suspicious westerners to theaters and Moscow landmarks. Something is certainty going on..

Thanks to a brief meeting with the KGB’s Colonel Drozhkin, Porfiry is informed that there may be western capitalist fanatics loose within the city of Moscow. Now, not only does he have to solve the murder, but he is being tasked with preventing any terrorist plots against the Film Festival.

I’m real taken with the writing, the way Kaminski draws me into the whole story. And, there’s even a bit of the old noir detective fiction. Here Tkach is interviewing a suspect at her hotel room:

“I haven’t been much help, have I?” she said, rising slowly.

“You’ve told me what was necessary.”

“If you’d like to come back tonight after dinner and ask more questions,” she said, taking a step toward him, “I’ll be right here.”

Now Tkach smiled, and his smile stopped her. The game-playing halted, for she had seen something that told her things had not gone as she had guided them. That smile was quite knowing and much older than the face of the good-looking young detective.

“I have to work tonight,” he said, stepping past her. “But I may have more questions. And perhaps next time you will answer with the truth.”

Without looking at her he crossed the room, opened the door, and stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him. At this point, he had no idea whether or not she had told the truth. He’d had no reason to be suspicious until he gave her know what you are hiding. Tkach didn’t know that it was the smile of all detectives from Tokyo to Calcutta to San Francisco to Moscow. He had seen her play her scene out, then had given her the knowing smile, and for an instant she had broken, showing that there was something more behind those eyes and that lovely facade. He had no idea what she might be hiding or why. He would simply give the information to Rostnikov and let him worry about it.”

Death Of A Dissident – Stuart Kaminsky

Death Of A Dissident – 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.”