Stuart Kaminsky won the Edgar for Best Novel for A Cold Red Sunrise, and it’s easy to see why. The four books that precede it in his long-running series featuring Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov are all excellent. But he outdoes himself with this fascinating excursion into a murder above the Arctic Circle. We follow Rostnikov 2,000 miles east of Moscow to the frozen wastes of a tiny Siberian village in 1987. There, surprise piles atop surprise. Meanwhile, we gain insight into the dysfunction of the Soviet state and learn about the indigenous culture of the area. It’s a tour de force, surely among the best novels in the detective genre.
Three exiles in a Siberian village
The village of Tumsk exists for two reasons, and two only. “Tumsk had not resisted change,” Kaminsky writes. “Tumsk had not even been threatened by it. No one had cared.” It’s the site of a Soviet naval weather research station near the massive Yenisei River and the home of three men who proved troublesome for the state. General Krasnikov, who is outspoken in his opposition to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. A dissident physician named Lev Samsonov, who is scheduled for deportation to the West along with his beautiful young wife. And Dimitri Galich, a renegade ex-priest who found life west of the Urals both in and outside the Church too difficult to bear. All three exiles, both voluntary and not, are among the suspects Rostnikov finds for the murder of the police Commissar who preceded him in the village.
A Cold Red Sunrise (Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov #5) by Stuart M. Kaminsky (1988) 332 pages ★★★★★
Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel
A police procedural set in Gorbachev’s Russia
The four novels that precede A Cold Red Sunrise are police procedurals, but his one is a little different. In the earlier books, Rostnikov and his two subordinates, Emil Karpo and Sasha Tkach, all pursue different cases, which may prove to be interconnected. Now the KGB has snatched Karpo from an investigation in Moscow into two “economic criminals”—muggers, in this case—and assigned him to accompany Rostnikov to Tumsk. His assignment is to spy on his boss and mentor. And Tkach is yanked from another active investigation and reassigned to resume the stakeout Karpo was forced to abandon.
Murder above the Arctic Circle
Rostnikov’s assignment is to identify and arrest the person who killed Commissar Ilya Rutkin and not to be diverted by any distractions. But the case isn’t so simple. Rutkin was investigating the death of the dissident physician’s eight-year-old daughter when he himself was murdered. Naturally, Rostnikov suspects that the two cases are linked. But his orders are to avoid questions about the little girl. Which he is constitutionally incapable of doing.
Within short order of arriving in the village, Rostnikov manages to focus his suspicions on the three exiles. And he’s certain that the aged caretaker of the People’s Hall of Justice overlooking the village square witnessed the Commissar’s murder. In fact, when he eventually manages to coax a confession from the old man, a fourth suspect turns up. He’s a man named Kurmu, a shaman of the indigenous Evenki people who live in the taiga (forest) surrounding the village. And, to complicate matters further, Rostnikov suspects that Dr. Samsonov’s young wife, Lyudmila, knows more than she’s saying about what happened.
Still, with Emil Karpo’s able assistance, and despite the interference and constant complaints of the KGB officer sent to find fault with his investigation, Rostnikov successfully wraps up the case within the three days he’s given himself as a deadline. But there are many surprises along the way—more for us readers than for Rostnikov, to be sure.
About the author
Stuart M. Kaminsky (1934-2009) wrote four series of detective novels in a career spanning three decades, including eighteen novels featuring Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov. He held BS and MA degrees from the University of Illinois and a PhD in Speech from Northwestern University. Kaminsky taught film studies at Northwestern and Florida State University for a total of 22 years.
For more reading
This novel is one of The best mysteries and thrillers of 2022.
I’ve also reviewed the first four books in this series, all of which are well worth reading:
- Death of a Dissident (A grim murder mystery set in the USSR)
- Black Knight in Red Square (The collapse of the USSR is underway in this detective novel)
- Red Chameleon (A Russian police procedural set in the Soviet Union)
- A Fine Red Rain (In Gorbachev’s Russia, corruption and a serial killer)
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