The troubled spaceship Mir is in difficulties again, and this time, for some reason, Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov of the Office of Special Investigations, Moscow Police, is in some way connected. ‘Inform him,’ Cosmonaut T. Vladovka said in what he certainly believed would be the Mir’s last transmission. As things turned out, it wasn't. The Mir survived, but since Vladovka has disappeared he can't be asked exactly what a Moscow cop, even one as versatile and astute as Rostnikov, has to do with an imperiled spacecraft. But busy Rostnikov, in his 13th appearance (The Dog Who Bit a Policeman, 1999, etc.), has more than just a falling spaceship on his plate. There's the matter of the famous Moscow director whose film Tolstoy is being held for a ransom of two million American dollars. There’s the murder of a leading experimenter at the Center for Paranormal Research, whose passing might well have been in the cards since not a soul can be found lamenting it. And then of course there's all that head-scratching, heart-burning sidebar stuff, the emotional glitches suffered as usual by Detectives Emil Karpo, Sasha Tkach, Elena Timofeyeva, and the rest of the Rostnikov Regulars—always knotty, always intense. Asked why Moscow’s most illustrious investigator derives such obvious contentment from the offbeat hobby of plumbing, philosophical Rostnikov sighs, “Plumbing has solutions.”
So do the three cases he deals with here—satisfying ones. Still, what matters most is that Kaminsky's shabby Moscow continues to live in the imagination as vividly and convincingly as Ed McBain's savage Isola.