RARA-AVIS: Fridrikh Neznansky

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 29 Sep 2002

I've tried sending this two other times. Hopefully, the third time'll be the charm.

The first Soviet mystery novel to be published in English (that I'm aware of, anyway) was Julian Semyenov's PETROVKA 38, which, as if to prove my earlier-stated thesis that the police procedural is the most universal of mystery sub-genres, was a police procedural.

There've also been several American crime writers who've written cop stories with Russian settings, including Martin Cruz Smith and Stuart Kaminsky. In fact, Smith's GORKY PARK and Kaminsky's DEATH OF A DISSIDENT appeared with a few months of each other, and both have since been followed by a series of popular, award-winning sequels.

To the appeal of an unusual (for Western readers) setting, Soviet emigre Fridrikh Neznansky adds actual Soviet police experience. After graduating from law school (where one of his fellow students was Mikhail Gorbachev), Neznansky spent many years as a criminal investigator for in the Moscow Prosecutor's (or Procurator's, depending on who's doing the translating) Office, roughly the equivalent of a DA's investigator in the US.

After leaving the USSR, Neznansky collaborated on two cop novels with former Soviet journalist Eduard Topol, DEADLY GAMES and its sequel, RED SQUARE (not to be confused with Smith's identically titled Moscow-set cop novel). He's also written at least one, solo, stand-alone police novel, THE BODY IN SOKOLNIKI PARK, published as a PBO in the US (a UK edition was apparently entitled THE FAIR AT SOKOLNIKI PARK, but it's not absolutely clear whether or not this a different novel).

Neznansky's books, in addition to the appeal of seeing Soviet police work from the viewpoint of a novelist with actual experience, have a bleakness reminiscent of the works of the Sjowall/Wahloo combo, along with insights into the nasty political back-stabbing that routinely went on in the USSR. I personally preferred Neznansky's collaborations with Topol to his solo effort, though this may have a reflection of the quality of the translations, or of the fact that I read SOKOLNIKI PARK first, and, consequently, was used to the style.



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