Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hard Currency: Stuart Kaminsky

Hard Currency (1992) by Stuart Kaminsky is the 9th book in a series featuring Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, a police investigator in Moscow, and the team that he works with. When the series started, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was still in existence. This book, published in 1992, and the previous one, Death of a Russian Priest (reviewed here) address the changes in Russia following the dissolution of the USSR, and specifically how this affects this police team.

This book is especially interesting because Rostnikov and one of his staff, Inspector Elena Timofeyeva, go to Cuba to investigate a murder. Or, in reality, the goal of their trip is to find that the Russian citizen accused of the murder is in fact the murderer. To rubber stamp what has already been decided both in Cuba and Russia. This, of course, does not sit well with Rostnikov.  And the situation gets more complicated once they are in Cuba.

Meanwhile, there are two other investigations going on in Moscow, carried out by the remainder of Rostnikov's team: Emil Karpo, a very scary, very serious man nicknamed the Vampire; and Sasha Tkach, a younger member of the team. One case is related to the death of a visiting foreign minister from Kazakhstan. The other is a very difficult case involving a serial killer. At this time in Russian history, those in power do not want to admit the possibility that such a criminal exists in their country. Thus, for a long time, there were no attempts to tie the crimes together, which could have helped solve the crime. By the time all the data is available, it is hard to find any pattern in the killings.

I find these books most enjoyable for the development of the characters. The cases are interesting, but are not as compelling for me as the relationships and the setting. Secondary characters are also well defined.

In this series, we get a picture of the backgrounds of all of these characters without their personal lives overpowering the plot. I have read all the books in this series to this point, and I plan to read the rest in order. However, as far as this book goes, it could be read as a standalone.  The background provided is enough to prevent any confusion in following the characters and their relationships.

I cannot speak from firsthand knowledge about how accurate the depiction of either Russia or Cuba at this is, but this is what Ed McBain had to say about the book: "Kaminsky gets Russia right, and Cuba right, but best of all he gets his superb cop Rostnikov altogether right yet another time. Bravo!"

Kaminsky was a very prolific writer. He is known for several long-running series of mystery novels and other non-fiction titles and stand-alone novels. My earlier post featuring two of his books has some more information on his other series.

You can see a list of his novels at Stop, You're Killing Me!

There is a brief bio at Mysterious Press.

14 comments:

  1. Can you compare this series with the Arkady Renko series of Martin Cruz Smith. I have enjoyed the Renko series which also includes a mystery in Cuba.

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    1. Good question, Bill. A lot of reviewers do compare the two series and find them similar. I find them different, but as I remember it, they both describe the conditions in Russia and Cuba in about the same way. And they are both very serious. I have read all but the last two of the Arkady Renko series. I like both of them.

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  2. Tracy, I'm with Bill. The Renko series occurred to me as well, especially since the Moscow homicide detective travels to Cuba in HAVANA BAY. Cruz Smith's style is refreshingly original and I'll read Kaminsky's novel(s) for the pleasure of comparing the two.

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    1. Prashant, I hope you do try one of the Kaminsky novels. It has been a while since I have read the Cruz Smith series, but I seem to remember the novels being more thrillerish (not a bad thing, just different).

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  3. Thanks for the review Tracy. I have one Stuart Kaminsky book in my possession that is apart of his other series but this one sounds really good and best of all it's set outside the US. I'll put it on my list to read later. Hope you had a good weekend.

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    1. Keishon, this is a good series and I would love to know what you think about it.

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  4. Tracy, you're really trying to test my mettle. I've sworn off new books, new authors, new series and then this pops up! Perhaps, I'll try and dig out some Renko's and pretend....

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    1. Col, I definitely sympathize. I will have to cut back on new authors, etc., in 2014 but not worrying about that now. The Arkady Renko series is good too and might be more your type of thing anyway. I have to read Three Stations sometime soon.

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  5. Tracy - I agree about Kaminsky's depiction of Russia - it really does feel authentic. And I do like the way he draws characters too. You've done a fine review here of an entry into a terrific series.

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    1. Thanks, Margot. I wish I could get through the series faster. So much to read!

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  6. Great review TracyK - Kaminsky always spoke about how much he loved researching his books and it sounds like it comes through again and again here - I have read some of the books in the seires but I think mainly the earliest volume that came out soon after the success of GORKY PARK. I actually prefer the Kamisky series, though this may be a minority view,

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    1. Sergio, the Toby Peters series? I have read a few of those, have a lots more to try. Guess I will give up trying to read them in order.

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  7. I knew his name, but hadn't realized how much he had written till I just looked him up! I don't think I've read any, though would have to check my records. this does sound interesting, though novels set in Russia or USSR tend not to be high on my list...

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    1. Moira, each of his series is very different. The Toby Peters series, set in Hollywood, is humorous and many readers prefer that one. This one is serious for the most part. There is one set in Chicago with a Jewish policeman (and an Irish Catholic partner). And one set in Florida featuring a Private Investigator, but I have read none of that one. And one day I will read all of them.

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