A melancholy farce, obviously written with an eye on Gogol, about the untidy coverup of a Kremlin scandal--first US publication for this Russian criminologist/journalist. The beginning seems formulaic enough: Moscow women's doctor Uti Kirilov, after getting a cryptic phone call from investigative reporter Sergei Orlovsky, an old school friend, reluctantly flies to a rendezvous in far-off Arshalsk, only to find that Orlovsky's disappeared and that somebody--somebody official--is listening in on Kirilov's phone calls, following him around, and commandeering his hotel room in the dead of night. Inquiries about Orlovsky naturally turn up nothing but tantalizing hints about a story he was writing about two popular local militiamen who were abruptly dismissed after lodging complaints about purges by General Anarin. If this all seems like Hitchcock, it's the comic Hitchcock that Aleksandrov seems to have in mind, since when the militiamen do turn up--followed by Orlovsky--their stories add up only to a mishmash of accusations about ranks upon ranks of interchangeable high-ups; and then Lt. Col. Yosif Petrovich Vashko, who's been stalking Kirilov, turns out to have problems of his own, as he's casually betrayed by General Kisilev, his patron in the militia, and turned into the story's real, and most unlikely, hero: a cowboy who'll follow the clues--a photo of an apparatchik with a giant lobster, another showing Orlovsky impossibly dead, and scores of nonsensical conversations--to a wistful climax in which nobody gets hurt. A true original: the shaggiest tale of cloak and dagger you're ever likely to read.