MONSTRUM by Donald James


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 An effectively moody murder mystery--and more--set in 21st- century Russia, from the versatile James (The House of Janus, 1990, etc.). It's 2015, and nationalist forces have just bested insurgent anarchists in a three-year struggle for control of a corrupt, enervated Russia. Shortly after the guns fall silent, out-of-favor police inspector Constantine Vadim is dispatched from remote Murmansk to battle-scarred Moscow. Although without experience in homicide, he's detailed to investigate a succession of bloody murders in which a serial killer dubbed ``monstrum'' kills and mutilates young women. At the behest of the Cheka (KGB redux), the broody detective (still melancholic five years after his divorce from Julia Petrovna, a charismatic commander of rebel troops during the uprising) also works as a double for Russia's authoritarian vice president, Leonid Koba. While Costya pursues his inquiries amidst the turmoil of an anything-goes capital city and a ramshackle government, he's contacted by Julia, on the run from the belligerency's vengeful victors. Eventually, the dogged detective, with the help of district coroner Dr. Natalya Karlova, is able to establish a link between the murders and an illicit traffic in transplantable body organs. He also stumbles on an even greater crime, a cynical plot to rehabilitate Julia (whose lust for power transcends mere ideology) as Minister of Reconciliation. Stripped of all illusions, a desperate Costya takes matters into his own hands in hopes of subjecting the guilty to appropriate punishments and (paradoxically, perhaps) putting his beloved homeland back on the road to a government of laws, not men. At the close, he's back in Murmansk, making a new life for himself, salt-of-the-earth Natalya, and their unborn child. A bleak but engrossing tale whose impact owes much to the author's skill at conveying the horrific details of a future-shock domain that's neither East nor West but sui generis. (First printing of 100,000)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45770-4
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1997