For some time I’ve considered starting every book post with “I’ve read a book, and it was…”, but then I realised that I’m going to run out of adjectives annoyingly quickly. I did, however, read a book, and it was wildly entertaining. I’m not extremely well-versed in the modern crime stories, but “The Stylist” by Aleksandra Marinina ticked off most of my boxes. It also raised a warning flag, but that we’ll discuss later.
Russian novelist, Aleksandra Marinina, is a best-selling writer, almost entirely unknown for the English readers. It happens, not every book is translated into English (as of yet!); she is, however, well-known in Poland. As the Internet informs me, there’s only one book of hers available in English – Confluence of Circumstances (Стечение обстоятельств), her literary debut. Funny thing, the English translation of the title is on point; the Polish one, “Kolacja z zabójcą” means “The Supper with the Killer”. Don’t ask me why.
Marinina has a Law Ph.D., studied the personality of the criminals, and anomalies of their mentality; after that for years worked for the Russian police (militsiya). Her main character (being the protagonist of most of the novels but not all of them) is a police officer from the crime department, major Anastasia (Nastya) Kamenskaya.
So, Moscow, mid-90s. The bodies of several young men are found. All died of overdosing, all with the signs of frequent anal sex, all looking disturbingly similar: dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed, semic, and handsome. And remember that Russia has a long and dark history of anti-semitism. The only clue leads to a new surburb, full of villas and hard-working people; the district called The Dream.
As it happens, one of the district villas belongs to an old acquaintance of Anastasia Kamenskaya; paraplegic translator of Japanese and Chinese literature, Soloviov. Well, maybe not acquiantance – more like an old lover. The story between them is quite complicated, and with every new information our opinion about both changes a bit. Up until the last sentence, actually.
“The Stylist” is composed with two simultanous stories: one about the investigation over serial murderer, the other one about books, translations, and publishing. Are they connected? In a way, but not in the obvious way. I’m not sure if the “book part” is more interesting because of my personal preference or maybe because it is just a more interesting case; anyway, it’s easy to enjoy, logical and well-paced.
I won’t spoil the ending – even knowing that the book is unavailable in English; you could always try to watch the TV series “Kamenskaya”, I’m sure you’ll find the subtitles. “The Stylist”, if you’re interested, is in Series 3.
That leaves us with the problematic parts. It’s not a secret that Russia has a big problem with tolerance, especially with respecting LGBTQIAP+ rights. Not so long ago being homosexual was a criminal offence – and you can tell it in “The Stylist”. I’m not saying that the author herself is a homophobe; there’s no bad word about homosexuality in the protagonist’s mouth. But the other characters… It’s not a matter of political correctness (oh, how I hate this term), it’s pure decency. Well, the other character’s opinions are not always mild and kind. In some cases it’s just pure hatred.
Let me reiterate: it’s not the author; it’s some of the book characters, mid-90s Russians of different statuses and upbringings. None of them particularly likeable.
As a detective story, “The Stylist” is perfectly fine; a bit noir, with scarce humour, and a couple of characters worth remembering. If you’ll able to read the book in original or any of the translated versions, you may very well do so.