Initially I downloaded the book onto my computer via the free’Kindle for PC’ application that Amazon offer - it was perfectly readable on my net-book, but when I bought Neil a Kindle for his birthday present the novel became something different. For one thing I could read it outside in the sun; secondly I could read it without glasses because you can select a comfortable text size; and thirdly, it’s easier to hold than a book if, like me, you have Writer’s-Wrist syndrome. (I'm not being paid to advertise Kindles, just in case anyone is wondering!)
I had a lot of worries about the electronic read, but it was very enjoyable - page turning in an instant and automatic book-marking (am I going to miss those random train tickets, envelopes, post-cards etc that fall out of the books on my shelf as mnemonic surprises?)
The title - Snowdrops - comes from Russian slang for the bodies that reveal themselves when the snow begins to melt after the long winter. The novel itself is well constructed, with a strong narrative voice - a thirty something male lawyer called Nick, in Moscow at the height of the post-Glasnost feeding frenzy that created the new class of oligarchs. Nick is engaged in facilitating finance for an oil project headed by an ex KGB entrepreneur, and learning to cultivate the required level of moral blindness, when he meets two beautiful Russian girls, Masha and Katya, in the Metro. He is instantly attracted to Masha, the older of the two. Lonely, although he can’t admit it, he is easy prey for what he thinks are two innocent girls using him only for some great nights out and uncomplicated sex.
But neither are what they seem, and his habit of not asking questions means that he is soon morally compromised, plunging deeper and deeper into what he eventually realises is a dangerous game involving the murder of an innocent citizen.
The book is written in the first person, as a confession to the woman he is about to marry. It contains some of the most evocative descriptions of Moscow I’ve ever read, and conveys the heady, morally confused atmosphere of post Glasnost Russia with complete credibility.
The hero sins (as most of us do) by omission, and the message is that weakness can do more harm than positive action because it can facilitate evil. Not that any of the characters can be said to be evil - they are fully rounded individuals all looking after their own interests at the expense of everyone else in direct contrast to the old Soviet ideal.
Andrew Miller was a foreign correspondent for the Economist in Moscow for several years, so he knows the world he’s writing about. I will definitely be watching out for more books from this author.