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Gripping, rich, blackly amusing first novel--a suspenser that, like Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park, could pass as mainstream--about a Russian rogue who gets accused of crimes he did not commit and goes on the run. Moody, a former Time correspondent in the East Bloc, has taken on the spiritual skin of a native Slav. Someone is murdering Moscow's KGB militiamen, burning them alive in their cars in the middle of the night. The Jews, obviously. But how do the Jews know where to strike and at what precise hours? And can this be happening in Gorbachev's Russia, with its enlightened racial attitudes?. . . Viktor Nicolaich Melanov, a Russian driver for the American embassy, has all the Americans eating out of his hand because he's ""a magician,"" a fixer, a charmer who can get anything for anyone, whether it's Marlboros, Armenian cognac, a plumber, or tire repairs on an hour's notice. His is the same embassy into which a dozen Russian guards have disappeared, or apparently defected. One night Viktor helps a fallen Jew, Yevgeny Moisovish Shiskin--a vilely stinking Refusenik who has been beaten by KGB hoods--and Viktor's life is never the same again. Colonel Karushkin, the KGB'S chief interrogator for the Moscow district, has Viktor brought in for 12 straight hours of questioning about a suicide in Viktor's office. When released, Viktor knows he is now a KGB zombie, a creature marked for permanent interrogation. When his wife and daughter are taken by Karushkin, Viktor joins malodorous Shiskin in escaping Russia: they become ""corpses"" in a single casket being shipped to Israel. When the casket's journey is held up just over the Polish border, they escape into Warsaw, are befriended by a Polish whore, Viktoria, who is Viktot's mirror image as a magician, and all three head toward Prague on their way to Austria, only to find Karushkin there already, holding Viktor's wife and daughter as hostages. Not as gruesome as Gorky Park but just as densely realized and vastly funnier.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's