Cover image of "Tarnished Icons," one of the Stuart Kaminsky mystery novels

As a history buff, I turn to historical fiction with relish. And even though I’m familiar with Soviet and later Russian history, I find that the Stuart Kaminsky mystery novels invariably bring me new information and new insight. His series of Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov police procedurals span the eventful thirty-year period from the days of Leonid Brezhnev to those of Vladimir Putin, and every book adds to my understanding of the realities of Russian life then. Of course, the fact that the books are all skillfully written and suspenseful mysteries is the greater reward. And the eleventh novel in the series, Tarnished Icons, repeats the formula Kaminsky applies so very well, offering three cleverly crafted and revealing mysteries in one.

An expanded investigative team, with a massive crime wave underway

The year is 1996, and Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and his colleagues in the Office of Special Investigations are facing major changes in their work and their lives. Their boss, Colonel Snitkonoy, the Gray Wolfhound, is gone. Now promoted to general, he’s become head of security for the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. And replacing him is Colonel Igor Yakovlev, formerly of the KGB, and Rostnikov’s long-time adversary. Meanwhile, Rostnikov’s ex-soldier son, Iosif, has joined Inspectors Emil Karpo, Sasha Tkach, and Yelena Timofeyeva on the team—and Iosif and Yelena are secretly dating. Karpo, known as the Tartar or the Vampire for his cadaverous and threatening appearance, has lost his Thursday lover but may be gaining another. All the while, Russian society is disintegrating before their eyes. Boris Yeltsin is rarely sober, corruption is rampant, and a massive crime wave is underway in Moscow.

Tarnished Icons (Porfiry Rostnikov #11 of 16) by Stuart M. Kaminsky (1997) 396 pages ★★★★★

Photo of a gold statue of a wolf like the Tsarist treasure involved in this story, one of the Stuart Kaminsky mystery novels
This is not the gold wolf, the Tsarist treasure that Porfiry Petrovich is charged with finding. But it may look like what Stuart Kaminsky imagined. Image: Prompt Hunt

Three baffling and consequential mysteries

As usual, Rostnikov and his team take on the highest-profile cases. That’s their role in the Office of Special Investigations. And this time around they’re involved in work that may surface in the headlines if they can’t succeed in keeping them under wraps. Someone is killing Moscow’s Jews. Four have turned up dead on the riverfront. A serial rapist is running amok, assaulting women young and old. And a madman is imitating the Unabomber. He’s on an insane quest to force Russia to abandon nuclear power and nuclear weapons. And, to complicate matters, an invaluable Tsarist treasure has been stolen. Any one of these cases could prove embarrassing for the Russian government if not solved quickly. So, as is the practice, the boss—now the surprisingly supportive Colonel Yakovlev—divides them into teams of two to pursue the three cases independently. And each will prove very challenging, indeed.

About the author

Photo of the author of the Stuart Kaminsky mystery novels
Stuart M. Kaminsky. Image: YouTube

Goodreads notes that “Stuart M. Kaminsky wrote 50 published novels, 5 biographies, 4 textbooks and 35 short stories. He also has screenwriting credits on four produced films. He was a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and was nominated for six prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Awards, [and] he won an Edgar for his novel, A Cold Red Sunrise, which was also awarded the Prix De Roman D’Aventure of France.” That novel was an earlier entry in the Porfiry Rostnikov series.

For what it’s worth, the Porfiry Rostnikov books are not technically historical fiction. Kaminsky wrote them contemporaneously, with each depicting conditions and events in Russia only a year or two before its publication date.

Kaminsky was born in Chicago in 1934 and passed away in St. Louis in 2009 at the age of 75. He was survived by four children and three grandchildren.

I’m building a complete list of the novels in this series, one book at a time. You’ll find links to my reviews of all the novels preceding Tarnished Icons at Police procedurals spanning modern Russian history. And you’ll find one of them at The best police procedurals.

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