His Moscow is bleak and benighted, his cases never-ending and knotty, his boss as unpredictable and unsettling as ever, and yet, in his 14th outing (Fall of a Cosmonaut, 2000, etc.), Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov of the Office of Special Investigations seems somehow a cheerier version of his pragmatic self. Maybe that’s because his beloved wife Sara has bounced back from a serious illness, or because his son Ioseph, now part of the Special Investigations team, is sleuthing like a chip-off-the-old-block. At any rate, when he boards the sleek Trans-Siberian Express at the behest of Igor Yaklovev, the inscrutable Director of Special Investigations, Rostnikov’s mood is impenetrably sanguine. Sure, the mission is complex and dangerous; of course the Yak has a secret agenda—he’s never without one—but Rostnikov senses it will all work out splendidly. And it does. While the legendary train speeds toward the icy East, a world-class hit man is foiled, an elusive courier nailed and relieved of his burden, and a seductive counter-agent counteracted. Rostnikov returns to headquarters with booty for the Yak and a bit of leverage for himself that can be oh-so-gently exerted in behalf of a deserving staff. Which, while he was away, performs with its customary aplomb: the charismatic kingpin of the heavy metal world is snatched back from kidnappers and the mysterious Moscow Metro murderer caught in the act.
Deftly plotted and, as usual, superbly written. And fans of this distinguished series may well delight in a rosier Rostnikov.