A Fine Red Rain by Stuart M. Kaminsky is the fourth novel in the Inspector Rostnikov series written in 1987. I read the kindle edition from Mysteriouspress.com even though I have a copy of the Ivy Books paperback. I just find it easier somehow to take notes on the kindle. I’m starting to get much more comfortable being able to whip it our and read almost anything almost anywhere. Besides, the paperback is starting to show its age a bit.
But this story really highlights Inspector Rostnikov’s deep-set sense of curiosity. While out near the park on a lightly raining morning, investigating a trivial matter as part of his diminished duties, he observes a disturbed drunken individual atop a tall statue. Ranting as some people do, the inspector pays scant attention. Until the man leaps from the statue to his death below. Something within the inspector takes note. Although there is a corpse on the ground, there is a question in the air. Why.
Rostnikov had recently been transferred “on temporary but open-ended duty” to the MVD—the police, uniformed and ununiformed, who directed traffic, faced the public, and were the front line of defense against crime and for maintenance of order. As he reports in for the morning meeting he takes his place with the other senior staff. In going over the day’s assignments he recounts the story of the apparent suicide.
You would think that curiosity would be a central motivator for most of the detectives here in the Moscow that Kaminsky shows us so clearly, but it’s suspicion, a misplaced distrustful emotion amongst the Gray Wolfhound’s senior staff that pervades the unit. They are typical of the suspicion, not curiosity that pervades the police investigative unit. Their suspicion fuels unproductive speculation, where as Rostnikov’s curiosity fuels productive questions… the who, what where… and crucially, the ‘why’ of people and their actions and intentions. Its curiosity that leads Rostnikov to take as his assignment an investigation into an apparently unrelated accidental death of a circus performer.
At a local circus there is a performer, and aerialist who was fallen through an unsecure safety net. Though there is a corpse there on the ground, there is a question lingering in the air. Why. And is it just curious coincidence that the aerialist’s partner just leapt from a statue this morning?
But the ending, the scene of Inspector Rostnikov at Gogol’s statue in the park, the ‘full circle’ as it where, that really had a gut impact on me. I could feel the scene in a tangible way that few writers can achieve.
“We must have an adequate termination of a greater percentage of our cases, our responsibilities,” said Grigorovich, looking at Rostnikov, who continued to frown at the pad of paper on which he was doodling.
“Paperwork, evidence, must be more complete, investigations better documented, before we turn each case over to the Procurator’s Office for prosecution or further investigation,” Grigorovich went on.
“Yes,” Pankov agreed.
“Comrade Inspector,” the Wolfhound said, snapping the pointing finger of his right hand at Rostnikov. “Your views? You have had time to gather your thoughts. Perhaps your delay this morning was due to your diligence in preparing for this meeting?”
“This morning,” said Rostnikov slowly, his eyes coming up from the poor copy of Gogol’s statue he was working on, “a man leaped to his death from the new Gogol statue.”
The silence was long as they waited for Rostnikov to continue. Outside and below them, in the police-dog compound, a German shepherd began to bark and then suddenly went quiet. When it became evident that Rostnikov had no thoughts of continuing, Snitkonoy prodded as he stepped back and tilted his head.
“And the point of this, Comrade Inspector?”
Grigorovich and Pankov turned their eyes to Rostnikov, who sighed, shrugged, and looked up.
“I wondered what would so frighten a man that he would do a thing like that,” Rostnikov mused. “Leap head-first to the pavement. Crush his skull like an overripe tomato.”