Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Last Matryoshka: Review

I picked up The Last Matryoshka by Joyce Yarrow purely because her last name starts with a "Y" and I needed a "Y" mystery author to help me complete the alphabet in the A-Z Mystery Author Challenge. I'm also using it as a launching pad for the Follow That Blurb Challenge and one of the Take a Chance 3 categories.

This is an American mystery starring Jo Epstein, a performance poet and private investigator. She uses her New York street smarts to outmaneuver a master Russian criminal on his own turf. The story begins with her Russian-born stepfather, Nikolai, who needs help escaping a blackmailer who can frame him for a particularly brutal murder committed in the elevator of Nikolai's building. It soon becomes clear that there is more to the plan than simple blackmail as threats arrive inside not-so-traditional Matryoshka (nesting) dolls. The dolls have been altered and contain symbols from the honor code of the vory (Russian criminal caste). Jo and her stepfather have never been bosom buddies--but she is willing to help him for her mother's sake. But can she trust him? It doesn't help that it is obvious that he is keeping information from her. Jo's investigation will take her from the height of fashion in NYC to the Vladimir Central Prison in Russia. From a lonely backroom knock-off shop to the dark Russian forest and from the Moscow Criminal Police headquarters to the monasteries of Suzdal. In the end she will race the clock to solve crimes committed on two continents.

I have to say that in the normal course of things this isn't a book that I would have picked up and brought home with me from the library. A. It's current--published in 2010. B. It's American (I'm a Brit Lit girl). C. It's about the Russian underworld and I'm not all that into organized crime. This is a decent mystery. A nicely done plot about long-term revenge. I really like Jo Epstein as a character. She's well-rounded and she is very believable as a private investigator. I do wonder a bit about her actions in Russia, however. Without giving too much away, I just think that as a PI with her experience that her alarm bells should have been going off on several occasions. But maybe we should chalk that up to her inexperience with the culture. And to be really honest, my favorite part of the whole book is the poem that appears at the front of the book (untitled) about detectives and poets.

An action-packed mystery. Well-written and an interesting back story for the characters. Not my usual cup of tea...but I'll give it three stars for a good, solid read.

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