From Russia with Crime Fiction Lover

With Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina set to grace cinema screens from 7 September, we thought it might be apt to take a look at crime fiction with a Russian accent. If we asked you to list several Russian crime writers, we’re pretty sure that Boris Akunin would appear somewhere on that list. His Fandorin and Sister Pelagia novels have taken us back to the Imperial Russia of the late 19th and early 2oth centuries, whilst introducing us to two very different investigators. The classics such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov may also spring to mind. However, writers such as Alexandra Marinina and Polina Dashkova may be less familiar to you.

When we first thought about putting this list together and started researching Russian crime fiction, little did we realise how difficult it would actually be to compile a top five with a different author in each spot. So for this selection, we thought a slight twist might be in order. All of the following books featured are all firmly rooted in Russia, but… they aren’t all written by Russian authors. Why aren’t there more Russian-born crime authors? Well, under Soviet rule the genre was considered ‘bourgeois’, but several are on the way, just look at our first selection…

Moscow Noir
To start the ball rolling, you’ve heard of Budapest Noir and Mumbai Noir, well, for a decent introduction to the world of the Russian crime fiction, why not take a look at Moscow Noir, a collection of short stories written by some of Russia’s best noir writers including Alexander Anuchkin, Igor Zotov, Irina Denezhkina and Anna Starobinets.
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The White Russian by Tom Bradby
St Petersburg, 1917, and the city is on the brink of revolution. Sandro Ruzsky, Chief Investigator of the city police, is serving a four year banishment in Siberia for pursuing a case that his superiors wanted him to leave alone.

A young couple out on the ice of the frozen River Neva are found murdered and Ruzsky finds himself investigating. The victims are a nanny from the Imperial palace and an American from Chicago, and Ruzsky realises that a dangerous conspiracy is beginning to unfold. Could a face from his past possibly be the next target for a ruthless murderer? The detective races against the clock to save what he cares for before the Russia of his birth is finally consumed.
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Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
In Stalin’s Soviet Union, Officer Leo Demidov is very much a company man, until he witnesses the interrogation of an innocent man. However, when he’s ordered to investigate his wife, Raisa, then he really finds his loyalties being tested. In a country where crime does not exist, cracks begin to appear when the impossible happens and a killer is on the loose. Denounced by his enemies and exiled from his home, Demidov hunts for a murderer the state refuses to acknowledge, but is the killer the real threat in this novel?
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The Death of Achilles by Boris Akunin
Tsarist Russia and after a six year absence Erast Fandorin returns to Moscow only to become embroiled in the latest court intrigue and scandal. His friend General Sobolev, a national hero with a distinguished military career, has been found dead in a hotel room and Fandorin suspects he was murdered. Voicing his concerns to his superiors, Fandorin is given leave to investigate what could be his most curious case yet.
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The Bloody Meadow by William Ryan
Captain Alexei Korolev investigates the death of a production assistant who was working on a film in the Ukraine, in 1937. Initially believed to be a suicide, it soon becomes clear that her death was anything but. With a long list of suspects to question and a victim with some powerful political contacts, Korolev must tread carefully to discover the reason for her death and apprehend her killer.
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To Kill A Tsar by Andrew Williams
2nd April 1879, a failed assassination attempt is made on the life of Tsar Alexander II in Palace Square, St Petersburg. In the chaotic scene that follows, nobody notices the young woman in a dark overcoat walking away from the area. This is one of many attempts on the unpopular Tsar’s life. Dr Frederick Hadfield is an Anglo-Russian physician who is dependent on the patronage of the aristocracy, but when he meets idealist Anna Petrovna he is drawn into a dangerous double life.
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6 Comments

  1. Andrew Nette Reply

    Nice picks. One obvious one that is not on the list is Gorky Park. Dead Meat by Philip Kerr is also quite good. Ages ago I read Petrovka 38, by a Russian crime author called Julian Semyonov. It was great.
    Andrew

  2. crimefictionlover Reply

    Yes, I think Gorky Park is the best known piece of crime fiction set in Russia. The film was pretty good too. Maybe we should do something more in-depth on Martin Cruz Smith and his Wrussian Writings in the future?

  3. Rosemary Kaye Reply

    I have an old Russian crime novel called His Master’s Voice by Ivy Litvinov. It conjures up the feeling of 1920s Moscow perfectly (I think – of course I wasn’t actually there…). I see it’s now been republished by Virago.

    1. crimefictionlover Reply

      Thanks for that suggestion Rosemary, sounds interesting!

      Does the cover have a picture of a dog listening to a gramophone, perhaps spiced up with a star, hammer and sickle 😉

  4. eva dolan Reply

    great picks – love the Fandorin books so much. Snowdrops by AD Miller was an interesting read, Moscow in the late 90s, corruption and tactical seduction. all that good stuff.

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