Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Review of Dead Meat by Philip Kerr (1993, Vintage)

After the collapse of the Soviet empire various mafia factions have moved to control economic activities. Business owners kowtow and government officials and the police are easily bought. A Moscow investigator travels to St Petersburg to discover if a special investigations police unit is corrupt. The unit is headed up by Grushko, a tough, street smart and wily cop who appears to be straight. The investigator is quickly enrolled into two cases, the firebombing of a local restaurant and the murders of a journal who specialist in uncovering scandals and a Georgian mafia member. The mafia seem at the heart of both and rival factions appear primed for a turf war. As Grushko and his team start to investigate it’s clear that whatever scandal the journalist was working on seems key, though nobody connected to the case seems to know what it was.

Dead Meat is a police procedural set in St Petersburg in 1993. The shortages of the Soviet era persist, but now the mafia control key goods not the state and prices are extortionate. Grushko heads up a special unit that tackles mafia crime, but such is the level of corruption in the police that he and his team is not above suspicion. A special investigator from Moscow is sent to provide an assessment under the guise of learning by being embedded into the team. He quickly finds himself actively working on mafia related cases, including the murder of a high profile journalist. Told in a hardboiled style and using plenty of local slang, Dead Meat charts Grushko’s investigation and the how his team are assessed in turn. The tale is relatively straightforward, but plot is engaging and lively. In particular, Kerr does a nice job of evoking the city and Russia in the aftermath of the Soviet Union, and the politics and workings of the police, and there’s an interesting set of characters.

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