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The Silver Bone by Andrey Kurkov

The Silver Bone by Andrey Kurkov

Andrey Kurkov is a Ukranian author, born in Russia and who writes his fiction in Russian. In his latest book, and possible start of a new series, her takes readers to Ukraine in 1919, post World War One and still in the chaos that followed that conflict and the Russian Revolution. The Silver Bone (translated by Boris Drayluk) is a mystery story, a procedural of sorts, but Kurkov is much more interested in the place and time than in the mystery itself.

When The Silver Bone opens, engineer Samson and his father are accosted by Cossacks. Samson’s father dies and Samson has his ear cut off. Despite this tragedy, Samson quickly has to deal with light fingered Russian troops who move into his house and the requisitioning of his furniture. But it is the removal of his father’s desk that leads Samson into his new role. He follows the desk to the local police station and while he does not get it back he is offered a job with the police and some on-the- job training. Using his new position to investigate his dodgy lodgers leads Samson to further crime and corruption which he tries to investigate while chaos reigns around him.

As already noted, while The Silver Bone is overall a historical police procedural, Kurkov does not really even get to this aspect of the plot until almost half-way through. Kurkov is more interested in fleshing out Samson’s life and with the social and political ructions around him. That, together with a hint of romance with a formidable woman and a splash of magical realism connected to Samson’s amputated ear creates a rich and surprising tale.

Good crime fiction is often only a scaffold used to explore and reveal places and broader personal, social and political issues.  And that is the case here. Kurkov takes readers into the muddy, violent but also community-driven streets of Kyiv in the early twentieth century through the eyes of a character who readers will want to return to.

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The Silver Bone by Andrey Kurkov



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