Inside the Moscow Police Department, madness regins. Inspectors Karpo and Zelach enter the underground world of post-punk rock clubs searching for clues to the disappearance of an anti-Semitic rock star who happens to be the son of one of Moscow's most powerful Jewish citizens. Then there is the young woman, dubbed the Phantom of the Underground by the media, who is randomly stabbing well-dressed men in the Moscow Metro. And Chief Inspector Rostnikov is en route to Vladivostok in a first-class carriage on the Trans-Siberian Express - the greatest train in the world. It now carries two hand-picked officials of the Moscow Police...and an extortionist who may have information that could bring down the entire Russian government.
Penzler Pick, December 2001: This is a compulsively readable tour de force that keeps more balls in the air than a pitching machine. On top of that, in this 14th novel featuring the one-legged Moscow cop Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov, Stuart Kaminsky once again catapults us straight from our armchairs into the mindset of modern Russia in all its perverse dysfunctions.
Kaminsky must have had fun cooking up the plotlines, which ingeniously plunder the storage bins of mystery history. There's everything from a Jane the Ripper to homages to train-bound thrillers like The Lady Vanishes, North by Northwest, and the more obvious Murder on the Orient Express. At the same time, there's the conscious, skillfully presented element of social realism, an aspect that never intruded into the action of any of those tales. Kaminsky is wonderfully artful at conveying the pervasive cynicism that comes with the territory at all strata of existence in the former Soviet Union, and he does it without ever being repetitious. At an organic level, it seeps into and informs every level of the mystery as it unfolds.
One must marvel at the manipulations of the political and legal systems engaged in by Chief Inspector Rostnikov and his dedicated colleagues as they endeavor to deliver the semblance of a not-always-welcome law and order. To top it off, there are some terrific set-piece scenes, such as when the policeman Zelach reveals his unexpected familiarity with heavy-metal arcana as he and his partner interrogate some punks about a missing pal.
Kaminsky won the Edgar Allan Poe award in 1989 for the Rostnikov mystery A Cold Red Sunrise. Reading Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express, it's not hard to understand why, only difficult to know how he keeps the series' quality so high. --Otto Penzler