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A WHISPER TO THE LIVING by Stuart M. Kaminsky: Book Review

The recent death in October 2009 of Stuart M. Kaminsky left a huge void in the mystery world. He was the author of more than 60 mysteries, featuring four fascinating and different protagonists. His Toby Peters series features a down-at-the-heels private eye circa World War II who solve crimes involving such movie luminaries as Clark Gable, Gary Grant, Bette Davis, and Judy Garland. His Lew Fonesca series has as its hero a depressive process server in Florida trying to deal with the hit-and-run death of his wife. The Abe Lieberman series (the only one I’m not familiar with) features a Chicago police detective (called the rabbi) and his partner Bill Hanrahan (called the priest) as they walk the streets of the Windy City. And his Porfiry Rosnikov novels portray a Moscow police officer starting during the Soviet communist regime and continuing to present-day Russia.

A Whisper to the Living is the last of Mr. Kaminsky’s books about Rosnikov, who, in the words of the book’s jacket, is “one of the last honest civil servants in a very dishonest post-Soviet Russia.” The system may have changed in these post-communist times, but the struggle for power continues among those who have survived. Rosnikov is often given cases that no one else wants or will take, and very often his superior, known as The Yak, gives him a case with the unvoiced hope that he will fail to bring the perpetrator to justice if that would in any way bring trouble to The Yak or to the untouchables in power. The Yak, much as he admires Rosnikov, is willing to sacrifice him and his team if that proves necessary for his own protection and advancement.

In A Whisper to the Living Rosnikov and his team, as usual, are dealing with several crimes. The Maniac is a serial killer strangling mostly elderly men in a Moscow park; Ivan Medivkin, also known as The Giant, is a professional wrestler whom the police believe has killed his wife and her lover; and the detective’s team is trying to protect an English journalist investigating a story of prostitution in Russia. Kaminsky weaves the stories back and forth effortlessly, and his characters, both good and evil ones, are incredibly alive.

The death of Stuart Kaminsky was one of five in the past year that, in my mind, removed a major talent from this genre. The others are Philip R. Craig, author of the Vineyard mysteries featuring J. W. Jackson; Dick Francis, author of many stand-alone racing novels; Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall novels; and William Tapply, author of the Brady Coyne series that features a Boston lawyer. It’s painful to realize that we have either read the last works by these gifted writers or from now on we will read novels that are published posthumously. How lucky we were that they shared their literary gifts with us.

There is no dedicated web site about Kaminsky, but there are many interviews with him and reviews of his books available on the web.

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