This book has been praised as a 'psychological drama' and, to be totally honest, I was hoping for some big crime thriller almost in the style of the Nordic crime writers. If you're expecting the same thing, prepare to be disappointed.
That's not to say, however, that isn't a good read - it is. This is written in the style of a confessional, charting a man's downward spiral of his morals and conscience. The crime is more of an afterthought at the end and yet it still managed to make me a bit upset about it.
Nick Platt is a lawyer in London who has taken it upon himself to write his fiancee a rather long, very detailed confession of what he got up to in Moscow.
Most of this 'letter' is spent describing how dirty and seedy post communism Russia is and how he felt that he started to join it. This view of Russia is nothing new for any reader who has ever listened to news or read the papers when they've talked about the country and I don't really consider my eyes opened by any shocking revelations to begin with.
The characters that are introduced seem to reflect the different moods of Russian society: from the cold, rather distant lover Masha who constantly seems on guard and constantly on the lookout for an ulterior motive to 'The Cossack' who seems like he's been plucked straight out of a Bond movie with his thinly veiled threats and the forced jovial manner he uses to brush off any trifling matters. It's not made a secret in this bookt hat we aren't meant to like him, but we are shown glimpses of Masha that make us think this is becoming more of a Russian love story than anything else.
The old lady, Tatiana Vladimirovna, is seen as lonely and desperate for company whilst at the same time unable to shake the feeling of unease around strangers after surviving Stalin's regime. This is the one character I felt most drawn to, more so even than Nick, as she had depth and history to her; sharing with us her hopes and dreams for her retirement.
In all honesty I found that, apart from the final chapter of this book, it was more of a cultural view of Russia, with all it's seediness and corruption exposed, than a crime thriller. It shows a country of people trying to find their new places in the world whilst, at the same time, the older ones are still holding on to the ways that they grew up with such as the apartment swapping, not owning your own place. The younger generation are full of ideas of the West and what they see on TV but at the same time seem to be born tainted with the idea that you can buy anything and anyone for money and death is just around the corner "Life is dangerous... No one survived it yet".
This is an interesting read, not addictive or gripping but definitely interesting. Even though it lacked the action I first expected I found that it didn't matter so much as the actual plot was intriguing enough to keep me reading. Overall I would say that this is definitely worth picking up but be sure to not skip anything, it all has some importance or another!
(On a side note, if I ever have a fiance write me a confession this long - I'm asking for the abridged notes ;P)