cover image The Silver Bone

The Silver Bone

Andrey Kurkov, trans. from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk. HarperVia, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-335228-5

A Kyiv torn to pieces by WWI provides the backdrop for this fascinating series launch from Ukrainian novelist and screenwriter Kurkov (Grey Bees). The action begins with teenage Samson Kolechko seeing his father cut down in the street by Soviet Cossacks, followed by a saber slice to Samson’s head that severs his right ear. Alone and stunned, he takes shelter in his family’s apartment, only to find two Red Army soldiers quartered there. He files a report about the soldiers’ misdeeds, including the unwelcome removal of Samson’s father’s furniture. The eloquence of the report’s language impresses the local police investigator, who offers Samson a job “combat[ting] crime and restor[ing] order,” which he accepts. Bolstering Samson even further is a budding romance with strong-minded yet tender statistician Nadezhda. After a tailor friend and a soldier are both murdered, Samson leads an investigation into the crimes, discovering evidence including an incredibly large suit and a silver bone as long as a femur at the scenes. Kurkov eschews conventional mystery plotting—the eponymous bone isn’t discovered until two-thirds of the way through the novel—but the finely drawn characters and harrowing descriptions of daily life in 1919 Kyiv leave a far more lasting impression than clever genre tricks ever could. With its earthy prose and stunning attention to detail, this stands apart. (Mar.)