RED CHAMELEON by Smart M. Kaminsky


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Kaminsky, author of the flat, gimmicky Toby Peters series and other undistinguished suspense novels, is working on a higher level in his mysteries for Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov of Moscow--who now arrives in hard-cover after previous paperback appearances. The murder victim: an old Jewish man, shot in his bathtub. The clues: the murderer's theft of a brass candlestick--and a faded photograph hinting at secrets in the dead man's distant past. So moody, sharp Rostnikov (whose wife is Jewish) relentlessly seeks out the other figures in that old photo--one of whom turns out to be a rich American, currently in Moscow as a tourist. And when this prime suspect is also killed (a nasty car ""accident""), Rostnikov closes in on the sole survivor of the Jewish group in the photo, someone who has changed his identity since then. . .and will do anything to keep his Jewish past a secret. Kaminsky marbles this serviceable central plot with two intriguing side-investigations: workaholic cop Karpo tracks down a psycho-sniper (a terminally ill woman with anti-State grievances), using himself as bait; young cop Tkach, burdened by domestic woes (cramped housing, a complaining mother-in-law), stumbles into the hide-out of ruthless car thieves--and winds up as a hostage, in need of rescue by the supremely competent Rostnikov. Throughout, in fact, Rostnikov is a little too lucky in his sleuthing for complete credibility. And the three-part plotting makes the narrative somewhat disjointed. Still, with solid dialogue, strong character sketches, and convincing Soviet backgrounds (from bureaucracy to Bolshoi), this is Kaminsky's best work by far--somber, full-textured, quietly engrossing.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Scribners