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PRESUMED GUILTY by Junius Podrug


by Junius Podrug

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-86242-3
Publisher: Forge

 Torturously contrived, wildly improbable woman-in-peril/legal procedural set in a darkly perverse post-Communist Moscow, from mystically inclined lawyer-author Podrug (Frost of Heaven, 1992). Predictably pretty San Francisco prosecutor Lara Patrick opens her morning mail to find a grainy, unmarked black-and-white photograph, postmarked from Moscow. The picture shows what appears to be the mutilated corpse of Lara's American antiwar activist mother, who, according to what Lara was told as a child, died in an automobile accident in what was then the Soviet Union after she had ingested too much LSD. Lara, who was born in Russia but raised in America and who still speaks fluent Russian, hops the next available plane to Moscow, where creepy things quickly begin to happen. At St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, she falls in with a daft bag-lady who seems to recognize her. Then, as the guide rambles on about Ivan's murderous rampages, Lara barely escapes an attack by a demented priest. She bribes various perverted Slavic types for information about how her mother really died. Just about everybody she meets drops veiled hints before perishing horribly. Finally, Lara encounters the suave but skeptical Detective Yuri Kirov, passes out in bed with the wealthy Alexi Bova, and finds herself framed for the slasher murder of one of Bova's paramours, Nadia Kolchak. Beyond his relentless, over-the-top depictions of how unabashedly awful Moscow is, Podrug uses Lara to examine the grim severity of the modern Russian legal system, where defendants are presumed guilty and must engineer an almost miraculous manipulation of facts and procedures to escape conviction. Of course, Lara has a willing accomplice in Detective Kirov, who falls in love with her but even so must withhold from her the vile secret surrounding her mother's death until a climax that, thanks to Podrug's penchant for telling more than he shows, remains unconvincing. An interesting examination of alien jurisprudence, overwhelmed by campy melodrama, kinky theatrics, and cartoon violence.