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A Whisper to the Living (Inspector Rostnikov) by Stuart M. Kaminsky
Cover Artist: Photo: Gaetan Charbonneau / Workbook Stock / Getty Images
Review by Don Metzler
Forge Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765318886
Date: 05 January 2010 List Price $23.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Sasha threw the door open. In front of him now at the threshold stood a very muscular man with a shaved head and another man, a thin man with very white hair.

"Breakfast?" said the man with the white hair.

He sounded cheerful, cheerful enough that Sasha hesitated, but only for an instant, only long enough to see the guns suddenly appear in the intruders' hands.

"Come in," said Sasha, dropping to the floor. The two men came in firing at the bed and looking toward the bathroom. Then Elena came out of the room across the hall behind them firing her weapon. Sasha did the same. The sound was familiar but not welcome to the two men in the doorway. Then both intruders fired, the white-haired one at Elena, the bald one at Sasha.

Not exactly a typical morning for Sasha Tkach, but also not entirely unheard of for this Moscow policeman.

Sasha is one of a hand-picked team of investigators who works for Chief Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov of the Office of Special Investigations. Along with fellow team member Elena Timofeyeva, Sasha has been assigned as official bodyguard for an American investigative journalist, Iris Templeton. Templeton is in Moscow to do a story about an alleged high profile prostitution ring, and her work has drawn the ire of some very powerful people.

Other members of Chief Inspector Rostnikov's team have their own investigations to pursue. Iosef (Porfiry Petrovich's son) along with the socially inept but sometimes prescient Arkady Zelach, are pursuing the murderer of a small time boxer and his mistress. Porfiry Petrovich himself has teamed with Emil Karpo, the pale, humorless, black-clothed policeman whose demeanor has earned him the nickname Vampire. Karpo and Rostnikov are delving into a case that has been ongoing for several years, endeavoring to solve the mystery of the Bitsevsky Maniac, a serial killer who has dispatched literally dozens of victims by blows to the head with a claw hammer.

These are the various subplots that, in typical Kaminsky fashion, are woven together to form this elegant work of fiction, A Whisper to the Living. Also thrown into the mix are vignettes from the personal lives of the characters: Porfiry Petrovich's physical struggle to adapt to his new prosthetic leg; Iosef and Elena's hopes and doubts in regards to their impending marriage; Sasha Tkach's desire to be reconciled with his estranged wife and child, while at the same time he continues to succumb to his incurable womanizing; and perhaps most interesting of all, the strange and single-minded lifestyle of the man who is called the Vampire, Emil Karpo, who seems content to exist only for the furtherance of his police work, and justice.

Stuart Kaminsky passed away in the autumn of 2009. Discounting the unlikely prospect that the publishers may have squirreled away other unpublished manuscripts for later release, A Whisper to the Living will be the last novel we will have from this most expert and accomplished of contemporary American crime novelists. And it also represents a fitting and worthy conclusion to his enormous body of work.

From the Toby Peters series to the Abe Lieberman mysteries, from Rostnikov to Kaminsky's later series featuring the somewhat dark character of Lew Fonesca, Stuart Kaminsky never failed to please. What elevated his stories head and shoulders above the typical fare in the genre of crime fiction was his visceral connection to all of us. To the real people. Kaminsky's characters were never one-dimensional, fictional concoctions. His stories come alive because his characters are alive.

When Toby Peters finds himself still batting heads with his elder brother, despite the familial love that they both grudgingly acknowledge, we the readers empathize, because any of us who has a brother or a sister understands the nature of sibling rivalry.

When Lew Fonesca retreats to a darkened room for years at a time, grieving the death of his adored and beloved wife, any of us who have ever experienced grief can sympathize with Lew's desire to just duck out of this world.

When Porfiry Rostnikov concludes his day by shucking the official mantle of policeman, so that he can spend a few pleasurable hours engaged in the intellectual pursuit of repairing his neighbor's plumbing, we all can relate to that need for escape.

Kaminsky's characters are real people, with real hopes, fears and needs that are no different from the hopes, fears and needs that all of us shoulder on a day to day basis. His stories, his meticulous weaving of three or four subplots into one cohesive whole, are the works of a master. The mechanics of his writing are flawless; dialogue is not just on the mark, but is poignant, frequently colored by both the hilarities and the disappointments that we all experience on a daily basis. And it was this down-to-earth connection with the real people of this world, and his recognition of the small bits of humor that we must acknowledge and appreciate in everyday life if we are to have any hope of maintaining our sanity, that makes Kaminsky's writing stand out from the crowd.

I will re-read all of Kaminsky's works as time goes by, but I will sorely miss the fact that there will be no new novels forthcoming.

A Whisper to the Living as a crime novel is an absolute masterpiece, and as I have already said, it is a fitting finale to Kaminsky's body of work. I will say to all readers of crime fiction - no, I will amend that statement - to all readers of any sort of fiction: if you are not already a fan of Stuart Kaminsky, then you should be. You've been missing out on something very special, something that we are not likely to see again in our lifetimes.

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