Garry Abson: Motherland: A Gripping Crime Thriller Set in the Dark Heart of Putin's Russia

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Garry Abson Motherland: A Gripping Crime Thriller Set in the Dark Heart of Putin's Russia
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    Motherland: A Gripping Crime Thriller Set in the Dark Heart of Putin's Russia
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Motherland: A Gripping Crime Thriller Set in the Dark Heart of Putin's Russia: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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SHORTLISTED FOR THE CRIME WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION “DEBUT DAGGER” AWARD Motherland is the first in a gripping series of contemporary crime novels set in contemporary St Petersburg, featuring the very human and sharp policewoman, Captain Natalya Ivanova. Student Zena Dahl, the daughter of a Swedish millionaire, has gone missing in St Petersburg (or Piter as the city is colloquially known) after a night out with a friend. Captain Natalya Ivanova is assigned to the case, making a change from her usual fare of domestic violence work, but as she investigates she discovers that the case is not as straightforward as it seems. Dark, violent and insightful, Motherland twists and turns to a satisfyingly dramatic conclusion. MOTHERLAND WILL APPEAL TO FANS OF JO NESBØ AND SCANDI DRAMAS LIKE THE KILLING AND THE BRIDGE. This is Intelligent, ambitious crime writing for the mainstream. cite —David Young, bestselling author of STASI CHILD and STASI WOLF

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G. D. Abson


A Gripping Crime Thriller Set in the Dark Heart of Putin’s Russia

For Jenny


Saint Petersburg. New Year’s Eve, 1999

Her husband’s men had been drinking vodka since midday. Through the serving hatch she could see Sasha making a toast with his hand curled around one of her crystal glasses. She had no desire to listen to him and tore apart a head of lettuce at the sink, washing the leaves in the icy water until it numbed her fingers. She heard grunting and dropped the leaves in a salad spinner before returning to the hatch. Now the two men were arm wrestling on her coffee table, their rolled up shirt-sleeves showing off their pale, swollen biceps; the smoke from their untended cigarettes forming cirrus clouds in the stale air. She unscrewed a jar of pickled tomatoes and sliced three on a board then stirred them into a bowl of finely chopped cucumber and onion.

‘It’s smoky in here.’ She wafted her free arm breezily to emphasise the point as she placed the bowl next to a beetroot salad in the adjoining dining room.

Sasha lifted his palm to signal a truce. He tapped the ash off his cigarette then puffed on it. ‘Is there more food, Kristina? I’m starving.’

She glanced at him then looked away, conscious of the lie she was about to tell. ‘Don’t worry, it’s coming.’ She needed them drunk.

On the floor she gathered up pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – a present for Ksenia’s second birthday that spent more time being tossed in frustration than completed – depositing them in the corner of the room reserved for her toys. She raised the blinds. Outside it was black except for the yellow globes of streetlamps and the glow of lights in the apartments on the opposite side of the canal. Ice cracked as she forced open a window and freezing air sucked the cirrus clouds away. She yanked the window shut when the cold began to bite then let down the blinds.

Her eyes flicked to Sasha’s brown, wet-gel hair that he teased into tiny spikes. She liked to imagine he’d fixed an otter’s pelt to his scalp; it helped to make light of the fact that he had a gun. Usually the dull black pistol was in the inside pocket of his jacket but now it lay by his elbow on the coffee table. On the sofa’s arm was an open packet of cigarettes and she helped herself to one. The lighter was next to the gun, so she waited patiently until Vova noticed her lingering and lit the cigarette for her. A strand of the cheap tobacco came free and she absent-mindedly pinched it from the tip of her tongue then wiped it onto the edge of an ashtray.

‘This city’s messed up,’ she said to neither of them in particular, ‘I’ll never get used to the cold.’

Sasha lit a cigarette and drew on it deeply before picking up a near-empty bottle of Stolichnaya and filling a glass for Vova and himself. She brought out a third from the crystal set in her wooden cabinet and he poured the remainder of the vodka into it until the meniscus was bulging.

She knocked it back, hoping to calm her nerves. ‘And up here it’s dark from four in the evening.’

Vova settled in her leather sofa and emptied his drink with a flick of the wrist. ‘Well, it’s good in summer.’ He reached for a pickled gherkin, tapped it against the jar to shake off the vinegar then lowered it into his mouth.

She passed the ashtray to Sasha and turned to Vova, whose height barely made it to Sasha’s jawline. ‘For three months maybe, then there’s no night at all. There’s just this weird zombie light that makes it hard to sleep.’

Vova licked his fingers. ‘Piter’s always been black or white.’

She wondered then if she had misjudged him. In the daylight it was hard to imagine how any city could shine more brightly than St. Petersburg when it had the Winter Palace and the Mariinsky Theatre, but it was dark too. The city ate boys like Sasha and Vova, turning them into bloated corpses before they reached fat middle age. She’d heard a hundred thousand slaves died building the city, their bones crushed to grit beneath the weight of its wide avenues and fancy European streets. Sometimes she wondered if their spirits had infected the place.

Sasha broke the seal on a fresh bottle of Stolichnaya. ‘How long have you been here?’

‘Three years.’ She pulled on the cigarette and the nicotine made her light-headed. ‘We moved after our honeymoon.’

Sasha looked up. ‘And how long’s it been since Yuri left?’

You should know, she thought. ‘Three months.’

It had been the end of September, in that last week of sunshine they call the Peasant Woman’s Summer, when Yuri was sent to the prison colony at Krasnoyarsk and Sasha and Vova had arrived. They followed her and Ksenia around from that first day, and within a fortnight had scared off the few friends she’d made in St. Petersburg or “Piter” as she’d learned to call it. At first she had been outraged, complaining bitterly to Sasha about the intrusion into her private life, but it had only made them more controlling; more suspicious that her objections meant she had something to hide. They were right to distrust her.

She tried a subtler approach. Back then, they had been plain Alexander and Vladimir and she started calling them by their diminutives. When they followed her to the Leningrad Trade House she asked them to help choose a dress for Ksenia. During the week she bought them biscuits and cakes; at the weekend she treated them to vodka and cigarettes. Sometimes she flirted a little with Sasha, touching him lightly when she brushed past, or complimenting him on his physique.

‘Where are you boys from?’ she had asked.

‘Kupchino,’ she remembered Vova volunteering with unnecessary pride.

‘South of the city, eh?’

‘Yeah,’ he muttered, struggling to match her gaze.

‘I’m from Volgodonsk,’ she had offered. ‘From a shitty Khrushchyovka block of concrete like yours.’

At the end of October, Sasha told her she could go out alone. Of course, they followed her and Ksenia from a distance, waddling along the pavement like a pair of orphaned bears. She wheeled the pushchair around, pretending not to be aware of their presence. At home, she acted mildly surprised when they returned a minute after her. By mid-November, when it was dark and freezing, they stopped trailing her altogether.

‘Are you in there?’ Sasha’s glassy eyes fixed on hers.

‘I was daydreaming.’ She forced a smile then watched the two men lean over the table and lock fists again. Sasha’s bicep twitched as he strained his arm against Vova’s, trying to score a cheap victory. Vova resisted and the legs of her coffee table rattled.

She stubbed the cigarette out. ‘I’m going to the produkti before it closes.’ Alone in her bedroom she’d rehearsed the line but nerves were making her prattle. ‘I need cereal too – well, Ksenia does.’

Sasha twisted his thick neck. ‘Can you get some Marlboro? The red ones.’ He turned his head back to the competition.

She glanced at an open packet of Peter the Great and guessed he was taking advantage, but it didn’t matter.


Sasha kept his bicep locked against Vova’s in case of a surprise attack. ‘No, we stocked up.’ He gave her a queasy smile. ‘I bought wine in case you want to join us.’

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