cover image The Russian Singer

The Russian Singer

Leif Davidson. Random House (NY), $19 (277pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58502-4

Davidsen's ( The Sardine Deception ) new thriller is a smart mix of mystery and romance. Jack Anderson, a Danish diplomat in pre-Gorbachev Moscow, is determined to discover the truth behind the death of his secretary Sonia, who is found in her bathtub, her wrists slit; on her bed lies the corpse of a sadomasochistic prostitute. Soviet officials are content to call it a murder-suicide, so Jack, sniffing the possibility of a coverup, resorts to illegal tactics. Adding to the puzzle is the revelation that Sonia had been smuggling porno tapes into Moscow, to be sold on the black market. Becoming deeply enmeshed in the seamy underbelly of the city, Jack meets the dead prostitute's sister--the exotic, enigmatic Lilli, a lounge singer. She inadvertently leads him into a trap, getting him fired just when he's close to exposing a connection between Sonia and an ambitious ministerial counselor also at the Danish embassy. Lilli teaches Jack the sobering lesson of corruption: that everyone is for sale, even those in love. Their inevitable split and unrealistic reunion, however, indicate a sudden lack of authorial innovation which undermines an otherwise solid novel. (Aug.)