Written by Stuart M Kaminsky — Kaminsky was one of the most prolific and versatile American mystery writers. During his more than 30 years of writing crime fiction, he created four long-standing detective series set in Hollywood (Toby Peters), Chicago (Lieberman), Florida (Lew Fonesca) and Russia (Rostnikov), respectively. He would alternate between them, claiming it was like ‘revisiting old friends.’
Each of these series is a delight but it has become a bit of a challenge to find them in bookshops or even online in recent years. So we are delighted to see that Mysterious Press is reissuing many classic Kaminsky titles.
A Cold Red Sunrise was initially published in 1989 and won the Edgar Award that year. It is the fourth in the mainly Moscow-based series, featuring the philosophical,weight-lifting Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov. Except that this time Rostnikov is sent to the isolated town of Tumsk in Siberia to investigate the murder of Comissar Rutkin. The Comissar had been examining the circumstances surrounding the death of a dissident’s child but, before he could reveal his findings, he was pierced through the eye with an icicle – an odd but appropriate instrument of death for Siberia. As Rostnikov rattles the cages of the small group of residents in this Arctic outpost, he reveals with his usual wit and unconventional methods a world of secrecy, double-crossing and betrayal.
Rostnikov is assisted (and sometimes hampered) by his sidekick, Emil Karpo, who is so frighteningly emotionless and by-the-book that he finds the KGB rather inefficient. Meanwhile, other members of Rostnikov’s team back in Moscow are engaged in a complicated entrapment plot for marketeers in stolen goods. This subplot did puzzle me. Although it was enjoyable in and of itself, it did not add much to the story.
Native Russian speakers and specialists on Russia may be somewhat exasperated by the inaccuracies and mistakes that Kaminsky occasionally makes, despite his extensive research on paper. At other times, his research can read a bit like mini-lectures. In an era where we have access to the excellent and more authentic Russian crime fiction of Boris Akunin and Andrey Kurkov, it can be easy to dismiss Kaminsky’s efforts. However, it’s only fair to remember that at the time very few Americans had access to the real Russia, let alone Siberia, so this was a genuine effort to open up that part of the world to a Western audience and to move beyond the Bond villain stereotypes. A Cold Red Sunrise is best seen as a timepiece depicting the rusty iron chains still creaking beneath the veneer of glasnost, but its portrayal of Siberia also captures an impossibly beautiful world frozen in time, not caring about passing hordes of barbarians or Communists.
Rostnikov himself is a most appealing and unusual creation – devoted to his Jewish wife Sarah, knowledgeable about world literature and fond of Ed McBain novels, worldly-wise and sarcastic in a society where conformity and almost naive devotion to authority are expected.
A most enjoyable, quick read, I would recommend this for atmosphere and characters, although the plot itself feels a little predictable.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars