MAY DAY IN MAGADAN by Anthony Olcott


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Ivan Duvakin, a sleepy hotel-security man who ran afoul of the KGB in Moscow (Murder at the Red October, 1981), is now more or less exiled to the miserable Siberian town of Magadan--where he's a Party functionary in the propaganda division, measuring railings at the Magadan airport (for 1982 May Day banners) at the opening of this ironically downbeat, seedily atmospheric thriller. But Duvakin's drab life becomes grimly lively when, at the airport, he grows suspicious of an old cleaning-woman and catches her with a bag full of stolen fur pelts. Duvakin's report apparently starts unraveling a huge black-market scheme, implicating the airport manager--who is promptly reported dead of a heart attack. (Really a KGB beating.) Then, after heaping violent abuse on Duvakin (who's already hurting from combat with the cleaning-woman), the airport manager's widow determines to find out what's really going on--but her airplane to Moscow blows up on take-off. And then, after an anonymous somebody tries to push him in front of an automobile, the battered Duvakin gets a surprise visit from old nemesis Polkovnikov--now a KGB general, who enlists the very reluctant Duvakin in some high-level Magadan sleuthing. Is a local Party bigwig behind the fur blackmarket? Is the local KGB chief involved in a national scheme (Andropov's, perhaps) to depose Brezhnev? And what is Polkovnikov himself up to? Those are among Duvakin's ponderings as he finds himself posing as a KGB tough-guy and forcing confessions out of assorted villains. But the routine, convoluted plotting here is really just a passable framework for Olcott's modestly appealing blend of satire and gentle comedy--with echoes of The Inspector General in the corrupt-bureaucrat vignettes, an offbeat Duvakin romance in the form of a plump, earthy doctor (who dreams of Moscow), and lots of permafrosty, grimily convincing Magadan detail.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Bantam