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Fall of a Cosmonaut

Fall of a Cosmonaut

5.0 3
by Stuart M. Kaminsky

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Rostnikov confronts a mystery that stretches from Moscow to the stars
Once, Russian children wanted to be cosmonauts like Yuri Gagarin. But the Soviet Union is dead, and the days of Gagarin’s glory are long passed. For the men and women aboard the decaying Mir space station, life is an unending series of near-disasters. During one such breakdown


Rostnikov confronts a mystery that stretches from Moscow to the stars
Once, Russian children wanted to be cosmonauts like Yuri Gagarin. But the Soviet Union is dead, and the days of Gagarin’s glory are long passed. For the men and women aboard the decaying Mir space station, life is an unending series of near-disasters. During one such breakdown, cosmonaut Tsimion Vladovka asks ground control to contact Moscow police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov if anything happens to him. And when Vladovka disappears a year after his safe return to Earth, Rostnikov is the only man who can find him. A philosophical detective, Rostnikov has made a name for himself navigating the bureaucracies of the Kremlin. But never has he encountered anything like the labyrinth that is Star City, home of the Russian space program. Something has terrified the cosmonaut, and since he knows dangerous state secrets, he must be found, alive or dead. But if a man who braved outer space is scared, what chance does an earthbound detective have?

Editorial Reviews

Our Review
A Master Stylist on Display
Back in the good old days, when we were a nation of readers, a writer generally wrote fiction of various kinds. You had literary writers such as John P. Marquand writing the Mr. Moto mysteries, and you had western writers such as Zane Grey writing inspirational books for boys.

No longer.

Today, most writers are expected to write the same sort of book again and again, sometimes for an entire career. I personally give up on most series around book seven because the writer generally runs out of fresh ideas. I do the same as a writer.

Time to move on to something else. It's fun to see how many numbers or letters of the alphabet you can rack up, I suppose, but it's too much like making McDonald's hamburgers.

Thank God for writers such as Stuart Kaminsky.

He writes the Toby Peters mysteries set in Hollywood in the '40s. He writes the Abe Leiberman contemporary Chicago mysteries. He writes stand-alone suspense novels. He's even started a new private-eye series.

And he writes the wonderful Porfiry Rostnikov mysteries set in today's Russia. The latest, Fall of a Cosmonaut, is a masterpiece of plotting, style, irony, and general literary hell-raising. A cosmonaut leaves word aboard the Mir space station (what a great idea!) that Rostnikov is to be contacted if anything happens to him or the mission -- and now the spaceman is missing.

Then there's the movie director whose film negatives are stolen by a blackmailer; and some truly violent murders at an institute for paranormal research -- and a whole lot of other stuff, too, all played out against today's fractious and scary Russia. Played out with humor, sorrow, and great compassion for the foibles of this lumbering, aimless country.

Though he's won the Edgar, been praised by virtually all of his colleagues, and sells books at an enviable rate, Kaminsky's never quite gotten his due for his mastery of plot and social observation. This new novel should go a long way toward correcting that. Writing all these different kinds of books keeps him fresh for each new project.

--Ed Gorman

"We have too many levels to our conversations," says Inspector Rostnikov, the protagonist of Kaminsky's long-running series. "I believe it is endemic to Russians. It comes from having a history in which survival is often dependent on being cryptic." In his latest effort, Kaminsky plays liberally with both the notion of the Russian national character and the concept of the cryptic. Not one case but three concern the one-legged detective Rostnikov and his underlings: a former cosmonaut has gone missing in highly suspicious circumstances; the only print of a long-awaited (and Mafia-funded) film has been stolen and is being held for ransom; and a researcher at an institute for the study of the paranormal has been murdered. At first, the barrage of characters and rapid switching of point of view between scenes is confusing. Eventually, however, Kaminsky's deft characterizations shed light on the unfamiliar names and places. The solutions to the mysteries come long before the conclusion of the book; what remains interesting are the political machinations behind the investigations. Kaminsky follows the strategy of a police procedural (Rostnikov himself reads an Ed McBain novel during the course of his own investigation), and infuses his story with rich characters and settings.
—Jennifer Braunschweiger
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Even middle-range Rostnikov is better than much other mystery fiction, as Kaminsky proves in his 13th book about the one-legged Moscow policeman, whose stature and resilience fully justify his nickname of "The Washtub." The three cases that occupy Rostnikov this time around have neither the depth nor the range of the crimes in 1999's exceptional The Dog Who Bit a Policeman, but taken together they do provide a sad picture of a country thrashing about in search of an identity. Rostnikov, a man enough at home in the world to sing softly--albeit in garbled English--the lyrics of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song during a rainstorm, is once again our perfect guide. He and his failed-actor-turned-cop son, Iosef, spend most of their time searching for a missing cosmonaut, one of the crew of the beleaguered Mir space station, who happened to mention Rostnikov's name on a tape before something bad happened in space that made him disappear after his return to Earth. Iosef's lover, Elena Timofeyeva, and her partner, Sasha, are involved with a nasty and pompous film producer, whose epic film on the life of Tolstoy has been stolen by people who want the producer dead. And Emil Karpo, Rostnikov's deliberately unimaginative deputy, is leading the investigation into the murder of an unpopular scientist at the Center for the Study of Technical Parapsychology. All these cases turn out to be less absorbing than they at first seem, but Rostnikov and his team are so vivid and palpable that it almost doesn't matter. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It's always a bit of a heady thrill to buck a trend, but in the face of overwhelming praise for Kaminsky's police procedurals featuring lovable and capable Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, this reviewer found it as easy to digest as a bowl of week-old borscht. The novel begins interestingly enough: an event aboard the Russian space station MIR sets into motion a series of earthbound crimes that include the death of an expert in parapsychology, the theft of a major film about Tolstoy, and the disappearance of the cosmonaut who asked for Rostnikov's help while still on MIR. Of course all of these threads are eventually woven together in an admittedly clever style, but the drab background of the crumbling Russian state, the Byzantine mixture of plot lines and characters, and the overly theatrical Russian accent used by reader Nick Sullivan make listening to this book a chore. Kaminsky has legions of dedicated fans who will gobble up this 13th Rostnikov novel, but this listener would take the crackling dialog found in Ed McBain's "87th Precinct" stories any day over this convoluted glimpse into the Russian police system. Buy for demand. Joseph L. Carlson, Lompoc P.L., CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Internet Book Watch
In Russia, the Office of Special Investigations handles those cases that are too difficult to solve or too political to handle by the regular law enforcement types. The investigators are free to do what is necessary to solve the case, but the Director decides what to do with the findings. Currently, the Office is working three cases simultaneously. Chief Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov and his son Ioset look into the disappearance of a cosmonaut Apparently Vladovka has damaging secrets that force the head of security at Star City to want the man returned immediately. Sasha Tkach and Elena Timofeyna investigate the stealing of the negative of a multimillion-dollar movie on the life of Tolstoy that is heading to Cannes. The thief demands two million in American dollars. Emil Karpo and Akarcy Zelach check into the murder of a researcher at the Center for the Study of Technological parapsychology. Someone used a hammer to smack the victim numerous times till he died. Through the seemingly different cases and the personal lives of the investigators, readers gain a taste of modern Russian society. This enables the audience to care for what happens to the crew of Office of Special Investigations. The story line is entertaining as all three inquiries are fun to observe and ultimately tie together into one stirring plot. Still, the inside look at Russia makes Stuart M. Kaminsky's police procedural a tale worth reading by more than just sub-genre fans, who already know that this is a top rate series.
—Internet Book Watch
Wes Lukowsky
Effectively combining mystery and family history, it offers a vivid, multifaceted glimpse to a simpler, but not necessarily better, time. If any author desereved a breakthrough book, it's Lansdale. This should be it.

Product Details

MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date:
Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Series , #13
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Barnes & Noble
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

One Year and Five Days Later

Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov, chief inspector in the Office of Special Investigation, had not witnessed such a sight in his more than half century of life.

He had been heading across Petrovka Street after getting off the bus. The central police headquarters, two ten-story, L-shaped buildings surrounding a landscaped garden protected by a black metal fence, was no more than fifty steps in front of him.

It had been raining lightly when he kissed his wife, Sarah, and left his apartment on Krasikov Street. The rain had grown worse, out-of-season rain blamed by the television weather people on something called El Niño or La Niña.

When he got off the bus, it was coming down heavily and he could hear the crack of thunder. To his right he saw a bolt of lightning and the crackle of its electricity. It was at times like this that he missed his left leg. He had learned to talk to the leg, which had been shattered by a German tank when he was a boy soldier in Rostov. He found it difficult to talk to the leg-shaped mechanism of plastic and metal; it had resisted all conversation for the year or more that it had become a reluctant part of the burly man known to the various branches of the police, Mafias, and petty criminals as "the Washtub."

The bus had pulled away down the street. Rostnikov looked after it. The bus swayed dangerously though it was moving slowly. The wind suddenly went mad. People scattered. No one screamed. The two uniformed officers at the Petrovka station gate backed into the relative safety of their small bulletproof guard box.

Porfiry Petrovich swayed and ordered his leg to stand firm, knowing that it would not listen, had no mind. It was efficient but poor company. He was about to fall. The wind pulled open his coat and tugged at the buttons of his shirt. Rostnikov avoided a car that pulled past him and stopped in the middle of the street. The Washtub managed to make it over the curb to a small tree whose bare branches chattered as he clung to the trunk.

In the kennels of Petrovka, the German shepherds howled.

It was then that the bench, iron and wood, came flying down the street, touching down on top of a stopped car, creating a streak and scratch of sparks before continuing away about six or seven feet off the ground. The bench paused, twisted, rose as if deciding what to do, and then darted with the wind and rain down the street and into the drenched darkness. Now Rostnikov could hear the sound of windows breaking in Petrovka headquarters.

It reminded him of something in a book he had read. No, it had been Chekov's notes on Siberia, the description of something like this, only in Chekov's tale it had been snowing.

Rostnikov clung and watched, waiting for more wonders. Across the street, well behind the bus and not far off, a slightly larger tree than the one to which he clung cracked low on the trunk and slowly toppled, brushing the sidewalk with a dying sigh.

And then it was over.

The rain continued but it was only a drizzle now, though the street was puddled and rivulets cascaded down the gutters. There was no wind, just a breeze. The sound of thunder was distant now and there were no more crackles of lightning. The entire marvel had taken less than a minute.

Rostnikov examined himself, touched his body to be sure he had not been stabbed by some stray flying screw or broken twig, and continued his walk to Petrovka headquarters. The guards nodded him in as they emerged cautiously from their shelter.

He was not the first to arrive on the fourth floor, which housed his office, that of the director of the Office of Special Investigation, and the cubicles of the investigators who worked under the direction of Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov, who, in turn, reported to the director. The cubicles of the investigators were behind a door directly across the hall from Chief Inspector Rostnikov's. It was only seven in the morning. The sun was barely out, but the light was on in the investigators' office.

Rostnikov knew who was behind the closed door. He went to his own office, closed the door, and began to remove his soaking clothes and put on his spare suit, which was in his very small closet. He hung his damp clothing neatly on hangers and then brushed back his hair with his hands. His hair, like his father's before him, was bushy. There was more than a bit of gray in it now, but Sarah, his wife, said it made him look distinguished, even stately. To keep him looking respectable, Sarah checked his shirt, suit, and tie each morning. There wasn't much of a selection, but with three suits, a dozen ties, and a reasonable selection of shirts and two pair of shoes, one black, one tan, she could certainly keep him respectable.

He moved to the window of his office and looked out. There was a scattering of tree branches in the street, and some of the shrubbery and flowers in the courtyard of Petrovka had been broken, plucked, and tossed about by the storm. Now the heat would come back. The mad rain would drop the temperature for a few minutes, and then the summer heat, worse than any Rostnikov could remember, would be back.

Air conditioning in Petrovka, driven by the city's gas system, if working, made the offices too cold, just as they were too hot in the winter. Stepping into the heat of the outdoors from the chill of the protected building was a blow for which one had to prepare.

His window was not broken but he could see that several across the courtyard had imploded. Behind one of the broken windows on the third floor a heavyset woman in a dark dress looked at the jagged broken glass and then across at Rostnikov, who nodded his head in sympathy. The woman turned away.

Rostnikov's office was wired by the director, Igor Yaklovev, "the Yak." Rostnikov knew his conversations were recorded and listened to, and the director knew that Rostnikov knew. The offices across the hall were similarly wired and every inspector knew it. Everyone pretended that their conversations could not be overheard. Everyone knew that if they wanted privacy they had to leave the building. The director did not really expect to learn anything from his hidden microphones, but he wanted the devices to remind those who worked for him that he was in charge. The only one who was upset by these hidden microphones was Pankov, the director's secretary, a sweating dwarf of a man who had lived in near panic since learning of the wiring, long after the discovery had been made by the entire investigative staff.

Rostnikov was suddenly hungry.

His phone was ringing.

He picked it up and said, "Chief Inspector Rostnikov."

"Are you all right, Porfiry Petrovich?" his wife said.

"I am fine," he said. "The storm hit where you are?"

"I think it hit everywhere in Moscow. The television said that part of the roof of the Bolshoi was torn off and that people ran in fright as the pieces of roof chased them into the square."

"Was anyone hurt?"

"I think so. The television said so."

"You are well? The girls are well?"

The girls of whom Rostnikov spoke were twelve-year-old Laura and her eight-year-old sister, Nina, who lived with the Rostnikovs in their one-bedroom apartment along with the girls' grandmother, Galina Panishkoya. They had no place else to live yet. Galina had recently been released from prison. She had shot a man in a state-owned grocery. It had been an accident. The man had been arrogant. Galina had been desperate for food for her grandchildren. Rostnikov had arrested her. Rostnikov and his wife had taken in the girls. Rostnikov had gotten Galina out of jail and had gotten her a job in the bakery on the Arbat owned by Lydia Tkach. And so the Rostnikovs found themselves with a new family. Porfiry Petrovich didn't mind. Sarah welcomed them and their company.

"Yes, the girls are fine. Galina took them to school."

"Then maybe the mystery we call God and cannot understand has chosen to keep us alive another day. I saw a bench fly down the street."

"A bench? What is happening to the world, Porfiry Petrovich?"

"It went mad long ago, Saravinita. Most of the world refused to acknowledge it, but you and I have not been given the luxury of blindness."

"Take care of yourself today, Porfiry Petrovich. It is a dark day."

"I will try to be home at a reasonable time," he said. "You take care too."

He hung up, removed his artificial left leg, placed it on his desk, and in English softly sang, "Looks like we're in for storm in the weather. Don't go out tonight. There's a bad moon in your eyes."

Rostnikov knew he didn't have the words quite right, but the melody was close and the meaning clear.

The phone rang again and Rostnikov picked it up.

"The director would like to see you in his office in fifteen minutes," said Pankov. Rostnikov had long ago decided that Pankov was the only human he had ever met who could sweat over the telephone.

"Please tell Director Yaklovev that I will be there in precisely fifteen minutes."

"I will tell him, Chief Inspector. Would you like coffee when you come?"

"I would," said Rostnikov.

"A cup will be waiting," said Pankov, hanging up.

Pankov was definitely the dog who did the bidding of the director. He had hidden in the shadow of the previous director, the preening but surprisingly cunning Colonel Snitkonoy, who had gone on to the position of chief of security at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and been promoted to general. The current director was a bit more difficult than had been Snitkonoy, who'd been known as "the Gray Wolfhound." While the Wolfhound had been tall, stately, almost always uniformed, the picture of a historic officer, Igor Yaklovev was of normal height, lean, given to dark suits and conservative ties. He spoke softly and kept his brown hair cut short and his bushy eyebrows untrimmed. The Yak, who had been a KGB officer, was ambitious and didn't bother to hide it. He was not above manipulating his office or the law, not for wealth but for the promise of power. The Yak had made an unwritten agreement with Rostnikov. Porfiry Petrovich would be in charge of all investigations turned over to the office. In turn, the Yak would decide how to handle the results of all investigations. Rostnikov would have a free hand and the complete support of the director in carrying out his investigations. In turn, Rostnikov would not question his superior's use of information gathered.

There was room for negotiation with the Yak but not a great deal of room. Rostnikov and his team had been responsible for notable successes even before the fall of the Soviet Union. Each additional success made the Yak look better. He did not long for the prestige and public circle of the Hermitage. He sought the quiet power of Moscow. Though it was no longer fashionable or politically correct to put paintings or photos of Lenin on the wall, the Yak kept a clear mental picture of the fallen leader in his mind as a model and inspiration. Were it acceptable, he would have grown a small beard.

Rostnikov put his artificial limb back on after sliding up his trousers and being careful not to snag the cloth on the prosthesis. He stood, hesitated, and then with a sigh of resignation reached into the pocket of his drying jacket and took out a plastic Ziploc bag containing two sandwiches of Spam, wilted lettuce, and butter. Sara had sliced the sandwiches neatly in half. Rostnikov stood eating one of the sandwiches, knowing he would be hungry again in a few hours. The morning was just beginning but it already seemed long. He vowed to wait as long as he could before he ate the other half of his lunch.

Across the hall in his cubicle Emil Karpo sat alone, neatly writing a report and preparing for the day. Karpo, tall, gaunt, and ghostly, known to those around him and those who kept their distance from him as "the Vampire" or "the Tatar," had been given an assignment by the chief inspector that he would have preferred to avoid. Karpo had simply nodded and taken the report. The case was murder, the victim a research psychologist at the Moscow Center for the Study of Technical Parapsychology, which, Karpo knew, was doing classified work for the government.

Akardy Zelach, "the Slouch," had been assigned to work with him. That was acceptable. Zelach was not bright, a fact of which Zelach was well aware and which he accepted. He took orders well, was loyal, and never complained. He was large, though of average strength. Karpo, who was taller but much thinner, was far stronger, but Zelach was not afraid of trouble, though he had almost lost his life several years ago aiding a fellow investigator.

Karpo had been a loyal Communist. Even now he refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with the philosophy. It was the weakness of humans that had brought an ideal to ruin. It had not been the lure of capitalism but the drive for power that had begun even before Stalin. Humans were, Karpo had decided when he was quite young, ultimately animals. A reasonable utopian ideal like Communism was probably beyond the conception of animals, even those wearing clothes.

Karpo had become a policeman to protect Communism and the state from the eroding effects of crime. Then, for several years he remained a policeman because it was what he knew how to do and he could lose himself in the work. Recently, he had come to a new commitment to his work. A woman, her name was Mathilde Verson, had been killed in the crossfire of a battle between two Mafias. She had been the meaning for his existence. Now his crusade was to rid the city of Moscow of as many as possible of the worst of the two-legged monsters who prowled the dark streets.

But psychics? Had Porfiry Petrovich given the assignment to him as some kind of joke? Rostnikov was not above such a joke. Emil Karpo was surely the wrong man to deal with people who believed in and studied such things. The world was tangible. Nature had its laws, even if we did not understand them. So-called psychic phenomena were strands of false hope that something existed beyond the natural world. Yes, some things called psychic phenomena were certainly explainable if the research and experiments were possible to demonstrate that they were natural and not supernatural. The problem might be that research did not exist to prove the natural where the unnatural seemed to be taking place. It mattered little to Emil Karpo. It was sufficiently challenging to accept the terrible reality of the tangible world in which he existed.

Rostnikov entered the room. Karpo did not have to look up. It was too early for anyone else, and the sound of the limping leg on the wooden floor was unmistakable.

The chief inspector entered the cubicle and stood before Karpo's desk. Karpo put the top back on his pen, closed his notebook, and looked up. He was dressed as always completely in black: shoes, socks, trousers, and jacket over a pullover shirt.

"Are you aware that we had a storm, Emil?"

"I am aware, Chief Inspector."

"Windows broke, trees fell, a bench flew down the street and into the darkness."

Karpo nodded. "It seemed unduly loud."

"Thunder and lightning. At this magnitude in the middle of the usually calm summer. Nothing like this has happened before. Perhaps at the parapsychology center you will witness things that haven't happened before?"

"I do not expect that to occur," said Karpo.

"I know. Do you like Spam?"


"If you are here when Iosef arrives, please tell him to come to my office and wait for me."

"I will be here till the institute opens at nine."

"Keep smiling, Emil Karpo."

"I do not smile, Chief Inspector."

"I know," said Rostnikov.

"And I know that you know," said Karpo, without humor or emotion.

"We have too many levels to our conversations," said Rostnikov. "Even the most trivial. I believe it is endemic to Russians. It comes from having a history in which survival is often dependent on being cryptic."

"That is possible."

"We will talk later. As always, take care of yourself. Today especially. Omens from the sky."

"I do not believe in omens," said Karpo.

"Which is one reason you have been assigned this investigation," Rostnikov said as he nodded and left the cubicle.

He arrived in the outer office of the director one minute before his scheduled appointment. Pankov stood up and handed him a dark mug of steaming black coffee. Rostnikov took it with thanks. Pankov bit his lower lip, waiting for the chief inspector to taste the brew. Rostnikov did so. It was not foul. It was not good, but it wasn't foul.

"Very satisfying," said Rostnikov.

Pankov smiled, having lived through another of the thousands of ordeals in his daily life.

There was no time to sit and, besides, Rostnikov did not want to go through the trouble of sitting for less than a minute. The maneuvering of his leg was more than the moment of repose was worth, especially when he was holding a mug of hot liquid.

The door to the inner office opened and Pankov rose behind the desk to look at the director, who stood in the doorway.

"Pankov, sit down. Inspector, come in."

Yaklovev left the door open and turned back into his large office. Rostnikov, still carrying his coffee, followed him and closed the door. The Yak sat at the far end of his conference table.

"Sit," said the director.

Rostnikov placed his mug on one of the brown cork circles provided for drinks and eased himself down to one side of the director.

"Do you know a man, a cosmonaut, named Tsimion Vladovka?" asked the director.

Sasha Tkach made a sound, perhaps a groan, probably a reaction to the dinner of oversalted barley-and-beef soup his mother had prepared the night before. He rolled out of bed and tried to see the clock on the bed stand. Normally Maya would have awakened him by now. Instead he had been awakened by the electric crackle of nearby lightning and the sound of rain hitting the windows across the room.

It was late. He would have to hurry, to shave, take a cold shower in the little tile cubbyhole in the bathroom. To accomplish this he would have to get past his mother in the bedroom. Lydia, in spite of her loud snoring, was a light sleeper. He did not want to wake her. He wanted coffee, though he was sure the acid in it had been giving him stomach pain. Perhaps he would switch to Pepsi-Cola. He had appropriated a large supply from a tourist hotel that wanted no trouble with the police. There were six bottles in the refrigerator and a carton of them next to it.

Tomorrow, he told himself, tomorrow I'll start drinking Pepsi-Cola. Today I need coffee. Who could deny me coffee in a life like mine?

Sasha was thirty-four, an inspector in the Office of Special Investigation. When he had begun as an investigator, he had been in the procurator's office under Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov, who reported to Procurator Anna Timofeyeva. Looking a decade younger than his years, lean, handsome, with straight blond hair that often hung over his forehead, he had done undercover work, pretending to be a student, a naive computer salesman, a manager of killer dogs, a black marketeer, an innocent file clerk, and many other things, but now . . .

He looked around the living room—dining room—kitchen. It was empty. There was no Maya in the bed. The baby was not in the crib, though the crib was still there, and he knew his four-year-old daughter, Pulcharia, wasn't in the next room. His wife, Maya, had taken the children and gone back to Kiev to live with her brother and his family, indefinitely.

Sasha took a deep breath, heard his mother snoring in the bedroom, folded the bedding and pillows, and closed the bed back into the sofa.

Sometimes, during the past few weeks, he had concluded that it was his own fault. He had staggered, fallen, been with other women, unleashed periods of brooding anger and sullen silence. In short, he had been less than a joy to his family. However, with Rostnikov's help, he had convinced Maya to give him one more chance, twenty-two days. She had reluctantly agreed, partly, he thought, because it had been a strangely specific number to choose.

She had remained the entire time and he had tried, really tried, to change. But change does not come easily. He had loved his children, held his wife in the darkness of night when he came home, avoided other women, and done his best, though his moods had still come. And at the end he had the feeling that it was she who was becoming sullen, that somehow she had taken on his moods of depression as if they had been a disease transmitted from one person to another.

He moved to the small sink in the kitchen area near the window and turned the water on, but not full blast. The pipes were noisy and there was a precise point, which he could never quite judge, when they would begin to rattle and shake. Porfiry Petrovich, who for reasons Sasha did not understand had a great interest in plumbing, had during his last visit to the apartment offered to look into the problem. Sasha had said he would let him know. He cupped cold water in his hands and plunged his face into his palms. He let the water drip onto his extra-large gray Nike T-shirt and he rubbed his eyes. He could see somewhat clearly now.

When Maya had moved out, Lydia, who was retired and supposedly on pension from the Ministry of Information, had insisted on moving in with her only son. At first Sasha had protested, said he would be all right, that he was sure his family would be returning soon. She had insisted and, he admitted, he really did not want to be alone.

There were times, however, in the last weeks when he was sure he had made a mistake. Lydia could barely hear. She had a hearing aid but she either didn't use it or turned it off. Lydia issued commands and criticism. Until Maya had left, Lydia's favorite topic had been Sasha's dangerous work and her insistence that he seek safer employment. She had not given up on that quest, but she now had a list of her son's shortcomings that required addressing.

Lydia had money. She had invested most of her salary for decades in property. It had all been done quietly and with advice from her superiors, who taught her how to make such purchases and protect them even within the Soviet system. Now, having sold much of that property and placed the money in high-yield foreign investments, Lydia was more than comfortable financially. Her prize investment was a bakery and pastry shop on the Arbat. It had been a state-run bakery, with sad loaves and lines of shuffling people. And then the revolution ended: crime, punishment, money flowed next to poverty even worse than that during the Soviet reign. But those with many new rubles, some with hard foreign currency, and even a few with very little flocked to the bakery on the busy Arbat to buy sweet cakes and brown healthy breads.

When even the new ruble had fallen to near nonexistence, Lydia, whose investments and money were all secure in German banks, had become even richer.

Maya had more than once suggested that Sasha stop being a policeman, manage the bakery, perhaps open a second one, maybe a chain of bakeries in various Russian cities. He would make money. He would have time to be with his wife, his children, his mother.

The idea, when presented to Sasha the first time, had made him seriously consider that suicide would be a better alternative to a career in bakery management, a career in which he would work for his mother.

Sasha liked being a policeman. He liked having new problems almost daily, dealing his way in and out of dangerous situations, meeting challenges, carrying a weapon. Anything else, particularly managing a bakery, would mean a slow death.

Now, with Maya and the children gone, he needed his work more than ever and, surprisingly, in the few weeks since she had been gone, he was sure that he was becoming a better policeman. He got along better with the partner assigned to him for each case. He wrote his reports without complaint and he did not frown or sulk when given a case he normally would not have liked.

But at the same time he missed Maya and the children and lived for the day they would return. He would be a better husband and father as he had become a better policeman. At least he thought he would.

He moved slowly to the bedroom door and opened it, inch by inch, pausing when he heard the slightest creak. When it was open just enough to slide through, he eased in carefully to the snoring of his sleeping mother. By all rights, the nearly deaf woman would not have heard a medium-range missile rip through one wall and out the other. But her son's slightest move would sometimes bring her upright in bed, squinting toward the hint of a sound.

This time he was lucky. He moved with the trumpet of her noise to the tiny bathroom and closed the door before turning on the light. There was just enough room to stand and carefully take off his T-shirt and boxer shorts. And then he turned on the water. With luck, he could shower, shave, shampoo, dress, and be gone before Lydia woke up.

As he shaved in the cool water Sasha became angry, angry with Maya. What had he done? She had given him a deadline. He had done his best. She knew what he was, how he was. He had done much to change, but one doesn't change in days. It takes weeks, months, if it can be done at all.

She has another man, he thought, and not for the first time. This is all a sham, a trick to make me look responsible, guilty while she is with him, probably someone she met at the Council for International Business Advancement, where she had worked. Why had it been so easy for her to be reassigned to Kiev? Was the man someone higher up in the trade center?

Maya was beautiful. Perhaps she had become vulnerable.

Yes, it was her fault. He had done his best. He turned off the water in the shower and, as he dried himself with Maya's favorite towel, changed his mind again and was sure that he was to blame. Fully, certainly. There was no other man. There was no other reason. The fault was his. She had simply endured as much as she could. He longed for Maya, for his children–for Pulcharia to run into his arms and announce that she had a story to read to him.

Sasha wiped the steamy mirror and looked at his face, toothbrush in hand. The face looked tired, the eyes heavy, the hair not as lively as it should be in spite of just having been shampooed. The body looked pale. He could no longer pass for a student. He looked thirty or more. It was not a bad-looking face and body, but it was not the face and body that could convince anyone he was a naive twenty year old. He had been through too much, had seen too much.

He dressed, compensating for his feeling of self-pity by putting on his best suit, the one he had hung on the bathroom door the night before. A reasonably eager smile and good grooming might compensate for the fact that he was going to be late. Sasha and the rest of the inspectors had no given hours unless Rostnikov or the Yak himself told them to be in at a specific time. But Sasha had arranged to meet Elena Timofeyeva at Petrovka at eight o'clock. Elena was always on time. Elena, the only woman in the office, made it her business to be on time and do her job with as much energy or more than any of the men.

Elena was plump, pretty, serious, and smart; smarter, Sasha thought, than Sasha Tkach. He had seniority, but she was two years older than he and more likely to get ahead somewhere in the Ministry of Interior, which oversaw all criminal investigation. At first, when he came to this realization about Elena, he had been sullen and felt sorry for himself. That was no longer the case. He belonged exactly where he was. Promotion meant responsibility and greater vulnerability. He had no passion for power, and the greater salary was not sufficient incentive.

Sasha was dressed, ready. With the money from Maya's salary, which was larger than Sasha's, not coming in, Lydia had found ways to try to buy her son's happiness. She had urged money on him, far too much, to pick up a few things on the way home if he ran into them. She would not ask for the change. She found other ways. At first he had been reluctant to take the money, but he had soon found himself accepting, wondering if he was being lured into an emotional debt to his mother, a debt that he would be unable to escape. However, that easy money did provide compensations.

He would take two sweets from his mother's bakery out of the refrigerator and buy a large coffee from the nearest kiosk today. She was snoring still as he eased out of the bedroom door, deciding not to close it.

Luck was with him as he opened the refrigerator, selected something small and cakelike, covered with chocolate, and a French croissant, dropped them in a brown paper bag, and headed across the room to the front door.

Suddenly the snoring stopped. Sasha could either break for the door and hope she would not hear him leave or move slowly while she got up, hoping to make it out of the room before his mother came through the partially open door.

Neither turned out to be possible.

"Sasha? I hear you. I have to talk to you."

He was doomed.

She sat in her small office, looking at her cooling cup of tea. It was a bleak, white-walled office. That was the way it was supposed to be. It had no windows. That was the way it was supposed to be. The door was closed. That was the way it had to be.

The woman's desk was almost completely clear and the dark wood shone with neatly applied polish and without a bump, mark, or scratch. The only object on the desk was her cup of tea in a simple white porcelain cup. The tea strainer had been removed, the grounds dumped into the wastebasket.

The only outside distraction this early in the morning had been a rattle of windows down the hallway outside of her office. She thought she heard the sound of rain on glass and was sure that there had been lightning and thunder. The weather had never intruded this deeply into the Center for the Study of Technical Parapsychology. She had waited till it passed.

Now she tried to clear her mind as she sat, tried to relax, used her techniques for concentrating on nothing. She hummed the single note she had chosen and paid attention only to it. After seconds or minutes, she didn't know which, she let her eyes fall slowly to the cup. It was nothing. Some object. She continued the hum. A circle of nothingness surrounded her hum, and deep within she let the power unto itself reach out to the cup. Something was happening. She tried not to let thought enter her being. The cup. She gently allowed the power to engulf the cup almost lovingly. She waited, distanced, for the power to move the cup. It would not take much of a move, just a distinct small motion, an indisputable motion.

And then her meditation broke, as she knew it would. Thoughts, fears, reality crept in, and the murder of the day before danced before her. Sergei Bolskanov at the table in his laboratory in his white laboratory coat. He had been listening to a CD, Mozart perhaps? He had turned. There was no look of horror or surprise on his face. There was a look, perhaps, of pleasant surprise. And then the hammer came out and fell hard upon Bolskanov, the claw side digging into his beard just below his lips. Bolskanov tried to rise, ward off the attack, but he was bewildered, dazed. The second blow dug deeply into his forehead. He yelped like a dog and tumbled back. No longer able to protect himself, blood spurting, he ripped off his glasses and flung them into the corner of the room.

The blows continued. Four, five, six, until there was no doubt that the heap of blood and flesh on the floor was no longer alive. The hammer was wiped on the bottom of the dead man's blood-spattered white smock, dropped on the floor, and kicked across the room to rest next to the pair of glasses.

And so, she asked herself, reaching out for the cup of tea, how can one perform an experiment with such thoughts, such memories, such images?

Her hands trembled but only slightly as she lifted the cup and took a sip. Tepid but with its flavor still intact.

The police were coming back. It would be a long day.

Meet the Author

Stuart M. Kaminsky (1934–2009) was one of the most prolific crime fiction authors of the last four decades. Born in Chicago, he spent his youth immersed in pulp fiction and classic cinema—two forms of popular entertainment which he would make his life’s work. After college and a stint in the army, Kaminsky wrote film criticism and biographies of the great actors and directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In 1977, when a planned biography of Charlton Heston fell through, Kaminsky wrote Bullet for a Star, his first Toby Peters novel, beginning a fiction career that would last the rest of his life. Kaminsky penned twenty-four novels starring the detective, whom he described as “the anti-Philip Marlowe.” In 1981’s Death of a Dissident, Kaminsky debuted Moscow police detective Porfiry Rostnikov, whose stories were praised for their accurate depiction of Soviet life. His other two series starred Abe Lieberman, a hardened Chicago cop, and Lew Fonseca, a process server. In all, Kaminsky wrote more than sixty novels. He died in St. Louis in 2009.     

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Fall of a Cosmonaut (Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Series #13) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Capturing the political and social upheaval of post-Communist Russia, the Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov series takes us to a land filled with power-hungry beaurocrats who are always looking for an edge. Director Yaklovev of the Office of Special Investigations, also known as the Yak, forsees the investigation of a missing cosmonaut as an opportunity to collect information that can be used as leverage at a later date. Once again, he assigns Rostnikov to do the legwork. Meanwhile, an epic movie about the life of Tolstoy is being held for ransom. Add a third case to the workload-the brutal murder of a researcher at a center for paramormal research-and the action never stops. Sprinkled into the investigations are the private lives of Rostnikov and his team, which give a greater understanding of each character. The novels in this series are consistently entertaining, and leave the reader looking forward to the next.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Russia, the Office of Special Investigations handles those cases that are too difficult to solve or too political to handle by the regular law enforcement types. The investigators are free to do what is necessary to solve the case, but the Director decides what to do with the findings. Currently, the Office is working three cases simultaneously. Chief Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov and his son Ioset look into the disappearance of a cosmonaut Apparently Vladovka has damaging secrets that force the head of security at Star City to want the man returned immediately. Sasha Tkach and Elena Timofeyna investigate the stealing of the negative of a multimillion-dollar movie on the life of Tolstoy that is heading to Cannes. The thief demands two million in American dollars.

Emil Karpo and Akarcy Zelach check into the murder of a researcher at the Center for the Study of Technological parapsychology. Someone used a hammer to smack the victim numerous times till he died.

Through the seemingly different cases and the personal lives of the investigators, readers gain a taste of modern Russian society. This enables the audience to care for what happens to the crew of Office of Special Investigations. The story line is entertaining as all three inquiries are fun to observe and ultimately tie together into one stirring plot. Still, the inside look at Russia makes Stuart M. Kaminsky's police procedural a tale worth reading by more than just sub-genre fans, who already know that this is a top rate series.

Harriet Klausner

Guest More than 1 year ago
Capturing the Russian psyche and behavior is a daring undertaking! But Stuart M. Kaminsky, as he continues his Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov series in grand style, does just that. If you like suspense, excitement, great characterization, superb plot--in general, great reading--this is your book! In this, the 13th of the series, Rostnikov¿s name is mentioned by a cosmonaut on board the space station Mir (If anything goes wrong, says Tsimion Vladkova as he relates an emergency situation on board, ¿please inform Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov.¿). Of course, something does go wrong. Vladkova returns to earth, then disappears. Rostnikov is told to find him. However, locating a ¿fallen cosmonaut¿ is not as easy as it seems; the Inspector knows that his case has the highest priority. No one knows if he is dead, kidnapped, or has simply disappeared on his own. The government is concerned because he possesses valuable secrets! As usual, Kaminsky has more than one story going on at the same time, all interrelated, and all equally exciting. One sub-plot deals with a movie director working on the life of Tolstoy whose film negatives have been stolen and are being held for ransom; another involves the research at a paranormal research center, where the director is found murdered. It takes the skill, the intellect, the presence of Rostnikov and his crew (Sasha Tkach, Emile Karpo, Elena Timofeyeva, and Arkady Zelach) to sort out and to solve all these problems. Kaminsky seems to have post-Iron Curtain Russia¿s ¿number¿ and ¿Fall of a Cosmonaut¿ only enhances the series!