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Authors: A. D. Miller

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Contemporary


BOOK: Snowdrops
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A. D. Miller
Doubleday (2010)
Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary

SHORTLISTED for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
An intense psychological drama that echoes sophisticated entertainments like
Gorky Park
and *The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Nick Platt is a British lawyer working in Moscow in the early 2000s—a place where the cascade of oil money, the tightening grip of the government, the jostling of the oligarchs, and the loosening of Soviet social mores have led to a culture where corruption, decadence, violence, and betrayal define everyday life. Nick doesn’t ask too many questions about the shady deals he works on—he’s too busy enjoying the exotic, surreally sinful nightlife Moscow has to offer.

One day in the subway, he rescues two willowy sisters, Masha and Katya, from a would-be purse snatcher. Soon Nick, the seductive Masha, and long-limbed Katya are cruising the seamy glamour spots of the city. Nick begins to feel something for Masha that he is pleased to think is love. Then the sisters ask Nick to help their aged aunt, Tatiana, find a new apartment.

Of course, nothing is as it seems—including this extraordinary debut novel. The twists in the story take it far beyond its noirish frame—the sordid and vivid portrayal of Moscow serves as a backdrop for a book that examines the irresistible allure of sin, featuring characters whose hearts are as cold as the Russian winter.

From Publishers Weekly

Things may not be what they appear, but they turn out to be exactly what readers will predict in this saggy debut about shady business deals in go-go capitalist Russia. Nick Platt, a lawyer who has traded his dull British life for pushing paper in Moscow, soon takes up with a leggy young Russian about whom he knows nothing and, at her behest, helps a babushka trade her fabulous apartment for a half-built place in the country. The deal seems like a scam, and, of course, it is, but Nick is blinded by lust and nearly always a step behind the reader. He blithely gets involved in a multimillion-dollar loan for an oil pipeline brokered by a dodgy fellow known only as "the Cossack," even after a key player goes missing. Most readers will not be so easily duped, and Nick's oft-repeated I-should-have seen-it-comings undercut any suspense that might remain, though there are interesting bits to be found in the travelogue-style writing about the new Russia. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Starred Review
Written as a man’s confession to the woman he’s going to marry, Miller’s masterful debut chronicles British lawyer Nicholas Platt’s dubious dealings in Moscow at the turn of the twenty-first century. Nick’s descent begins with what seems to be an innocuous meeting with two beautiful Russian sisters, Masha and Katya, whom he saves from a purse-snatcher. He’s immediately drawn to the sensual, remote Masha, who soon becomes his lover. Nick doesn’t think anything of it when Masha and Katya take him to meet their Aunt Tatiana, and Masha’s request that he help Tatiana broker a deal to exchange her Moscow apartment for one out in the country seems simple enough. As Nick, guided by Masha, helps Tatiana hammer out the details of the apartment exchange, little inconsistencies nag at him, but his lust for Masha and thought that she might be the one for him cause him to push aside his worries. A mesmerizing tale of a man seduced by a culture he fancies himself above, Miller’s novel is both a nuanced character study and a fascinating look at the complexities of Russian society. --Kristine Huntley

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Andrew Miller

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

and the DD colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Miller, Andrew
Snowdrops / A.D. Miller. -- 1st ed.
p. cm.
1. British--Russia (Federation)--Fiction. 2. City and town life--Russia (Federation)--Moscow--Fiction 3. Crime--Russia (Federation)--Moscow--Fiction. 4. Hedonism--Fiction. 5. Moscow (Russia)--Fiction. 6. Noir fiction. 7. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
PR6113.I556S66 2011
823'.92--dc22 2010010310

eISBN: 978-0-385-53345-4

Jacket design by Emily Mahon
Jacket photograph (c) smur/iStock Exclusive/Getty Images


For Arkady, Becky, Guy, Mark,
and especially Emma


Snowdrop. 1
. An early-flowering bulbous plant, having a white pendent flower.
Moscow slang
. A corpse that lies buried or hidden in the winter snows, emerging only in the thaw

smelled it before I saw it.

There was a crowd of people standing around on the pavement and in the road, most of them policemen, some talking on mobile phones, some smoking, some looking, some looking away. From the way I came, they were blocking my view, and at first I thought that with all the uniforms it must be a traffic accident or maybe an immigration bust. Then I caught the smell. It was a smell like the kind you come home to if you forget to put your rubbish out before you go on holiday--ripe but acidic, strong enough to block out the normal summer aromas of beer and revolution. It was the smell that had given it away.

From about ten metres away, I saw the foot. Just one, as if its owner was stepping very slowly out of a limousine. I can still see the foot now. It was wearing a cheap black slip-on shoe, and above the shoe there was a stretch of grey sock, then a glimpse of greenish flesh.

The cold had kept it fresh, they told me. They didn't know how long it had been there. Maybe all winter, one of the policemen speculated. They'd used a hammer, he said, or possibly a brick. Not a good job, he said. He asked me if I wanted to see the rest of it. I said no, thank you. I'd already seen and learned more than I needed to during that last winter.

You're always saying that I never talk about my time in Moscow or about why I left. You're right, I've always made excuses, and soon you'll understand why. But you've gone on asking me, and for some reason lately I keep thinking about it--I can't stop myself. Perhaps it's because we're only three months away from "the big day," and that somehow seems a sort of reckoning. I feel like I need to tell someone about Russia, even if it hurts. Also that probably you should know, since we're going to make these promises to each other, and maybe even keep them. I think you have a right to know all of it. I thought it would be easier if I wrote it down. You won't have to make an effort to put a brave face on things, and I won't have to watch you.

So here is what I've written. You wanted to know how it ended. Well, that was almost the end, that afternoon
with the foot. But the end really began the year before, in September, in the Metro.

When I told Steve Walsh about the foot, by the way, he said, "Snowdrop. Your friend is a snowdrop." That's what the Russians call them, he told me--the bodies that float up into the light in the thaw. Drunks, most of them, and homeless people who just give up and lie down into the whiteness, and murder victims hidden in the drifts by their killers.

Snowdrops: the badness that is already there, always there and very close, but which you somehow manage not to see. The sins the winter hides, sometimes forever.


I can at least be sure of her name. It was Maria Kovalenko, Masha to her friends. She was standing on the station platform at Ploshchad Revolyutsii, Revolution Square, when I first caught sight of her. I could see her face for about five seconds before she took out a little makeup mirror and held it in front of her. With her other hand she put on a pair of sunglasses that I remember thinking she might have just bought from a kiosk in an underpass somewhere. She was leaning against a pillar, up at the end of the platform where the civilian statues are--athletes, engineers, bosomy female farmhands, and mothers holding muscular babies. I looked at her for longer than I should have.

There's a moment at Ploshchad Revolyutsii, a visual effect that happens when you're transferring to the green line from that platform with the statues. You find yourself crossing the Metro tracks on a little elevated walkway, and on one side you can see a flotilla of disc-shaped chandeliers, stretching along the platform and away into the darkness that the trains come out of. On the other side you see other people making the same journey, only on a parallel walkway, close but separate. When I looked to the right that day I saw the girl with the sunglasses heading the same way.

I got on the train for the one-stop ride to Pushkinskaya. I stood beneath the yellow panelling and the ancient strip lighting that made me feel, every time I took the Metro, as if I was an extra in some paranoid Donald Sutherland film from the seventies. At Pushkinskaya I went up the escalator with its phallic lamps, held open the heavy glass Metro doors for the person behind me like I always used to, and made my way into the maze of low-slung underground passages beneath Pushkin Square. Then she screamed.

She was about five metres behind me, and as well as screaming she was wrestling against a thin man with a ponytail who was trying to steal her handbag (an ostentatiously fake Burberry). She was screaming for help, and the friend who had appeared alongside her--Katya, it turned out--was just screaming. To begin with, I only watched, but the man drew back his fist like he was about to punch
her, and I heard someone shouting from behind me as if they were going to do something about it. I stepped forward and pulled the thin man back by his collar.

He gave up on the bag and swung his elbows at me, but they didn't reach. I let go and he lost his balance and fell. It was all over quickly and I didn't get a good enough look at him. He was young, maybe four inches shorter than me, and seemed embarrassed. He stabbed out a foot, catching me painlessly on the shin, and scrambled up to his feet and ran away down the underpass and up the stairs at the far end that led to Tverskaya--the Oxford Street of Moscow, only with lawless parking, which slopes down from Pushkin Square to Red Square. There were two policemen near the bottom of the steps, but they were too busy smoking and looking for immigrants to harass to pay the mugger any attention.

BOOK: Snowdrops
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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