Miller, A D - 'Snowdrops'
This is a delightful book, from a new author, that is a refreshing read in the world of crime fiction. It is written as a narrative by the main character, Nicholas Pratt to his fiancee, in which he explains events in his life, while working as a lawyer in Moscow, before he met her. It starts with the discovery of a 'snowdrop', close to where Nicholas lives. Snowdrop is a Russian term for a dead body that turns up after a long hard winter, in the spring thaw, where it 'floats up to the light'. In Nicholas's case, the snowdrop is revealed as a foot protruding from a car near where he lives.
What lies behind the snowdrop? Gradually, we learn about Nicholas's life in Moscow, and in particular about the events leading up to the discovery of the snowdrop, beginning in the previous September. At that point, Nicholas had been living in Moscow for four years. On his daily commute on the Metro, he spies a very attractive Russian girl, Masha, and gazes at her longer than he should have. Shortly afterwards he finds himself saving her from a mugger, and this inevitably leads to a new friendship with her and her cousin, Katya. Masha works in a mobile phone shop and her cousin Katya is a student. The first time Nicholas takes Masha home, Katya comes too, and sits on a chair as a strange sort of chaperone. But Nicolas is infatuated with Masha and this leads him to somehow rationalise this strange behaviour, a recurring theme in the book.
The girls soon introduce Nicholas to their aunt Tatiana, who, it turns out, wants to move away from her central Moscow flat into a new flat in the suburbs, close to the country. The girls ask Nicholas to help with all the documentation so that she can do this, even though this isn't the sort of law he is usually involved in. Meanwhile, at work, Nicholas and his colleague Sergei are involved with the 'Cossack' and the documentation behind a 500 million-dollar loan to a state energy company and a logistics company, to finance a new pipeline. But Nicholas's friend, a journalist, says that the 'Cossack' has been linked to the FSB, a new model of the KGB, and has been linked to criminal activities. And at home, one of his neighbours, is worried about his friend, who has disappeared, and despite Nicholas's efforts, the police are not interested in finding out where he's gone.
These different stories gradually interweave themselves, and all have links to corruption and modern Russian society. Nicholas, as an ‘ex-pat', while able to speak Russian, is faced with a very different culture that is not so easy to learn. Because of this, he misses, perhaps sometimes deliberately, the various clues that with hindsight, seem to clearly point to what is really going on. The descriptions of life in Moscow during the big winter freeze, Nicholas's infatuation not only with Masha, but with Russia, customs and cultures, are beautifully written, all leading to an inevitable outcome. SNOWDROPS is both shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for the best crime novel of the year and the Man Booker Prize and is a refreshing, illuminating read and a wonderful debut from a new novelist.
Michelle Peckham, England
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