This wonderfully dark book is the sequel to Death and the Penguin. It is tightly written, sketching enormous detail with a few deft strokes. The story is deliciously absurd yet probably closer to the truth of the post-Soviet world than many learned investigations. And the underlying humanity shines through in poignant moments.
I have seen a lot of reviews that say this book is not as good as Death and the Penguin. I can only think these people are confusing ‘not as good’ with ‘not the same’. And thank goodness for that. It is good to see a writer resisting the temptation to duplicate a prior success. It is good to see a writer building on their evident skills and exploring new darkness, taking us into the shadow and the grim killing fields of Chechnya where Kurkov demonstrates the lessons learned in the Balkans are being applied with chilling efficiency.
Yet for all the grotesquery, I did not find this a depressing read. It is saved, perhaps, by the wry humour, by the moments of magic and, of course, by the presence of Misha. If you haven’t read any Kurkov before, I would urge you to read these two books and enjoy that rare combination of good writing and wonderful story.