[Paul Winterton] published one more book in 1948 using his own name, Inquest on an Ally. This was an exhaustive analysis of postwar Soviet policy and ambitions, with meticulous documentation of the way in which the USSR had exploited every concession offered by the West and had offered nothing but intransigence in return. The message was clear: Do not trust the Russians.
--John Higgins, Andrew Garve and Soviet Russia (2016)
What made my gorge rise was the thought that once again Moscow was going to put a preposterous story across and get away with it. One more lie was going to be established and we were all going to have to swallow it it even though we knew it was a lie. The delegation would go back to England with its smug fables and Mullett's death would be shot and shell for them. The very person who killed him...would probably be the most vocal in denouncing the killing as a monstrous political assassination.
--Andrew Garve, Murder in Moscow (1951)
Unlike many American and British crime novels featuring Russians, Andrew Garve's Murder in Moscow, the fourth novel which Paul Winterton published under his Andrew Garve pseudonym, is a not a spy thriller but rather a genuine detective novel. It concerns the slaying, in his Moscow hotel room, of the head of a leftist British "factfinding" delegation on a tour of Russia.
I read this novel more than a decade ago and enjoyed it immensely, both for its plot and its setting, which the author, a British journalist turned writer who spent a great deal of time in the Soviet Union during the Thirties and Forties, conveys with great authenticity. "Author knows his onions and his vodka," colloquially commented a delighted American reviewer of the novel.
Without this authenticity of setting Murder in Moscow would be a good detective novel; with it, it becomes a great one, one you have to read, like Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man and Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black, reviewed by me here and here.
|meet the new brutes|
same as the old brutes
Especially now. How much has really changed in Russia? Not bloody much, it would seem. The country's run by the same sort of corrupt, murderous bastards who have mostly ruled the benighted country for the last century. Look at that evil old Putin apparatchik Sergei Lavrov, who today was brazenly spewing the old 2 + 2 = 5, bald-faced lies that the Soviet Communists used to tell back in the Seventies and Eighties (and long before that).
It's just like what Garve wrote about in Murder in Moscow (see quotation above).
Of course Lavrov essentially is a dirty old Russian Commie, having himself been past forty when the Soviet Union collapsed. These bastards may have jettisoned formal Communist ideology today as they stuff their pockets with their filthy pilfered lucre, but they are the same old, corrupt, murderous thugs from the past; and one hopes they get their due punishments someday, like the Nazis did before them.
Which is why it surprises me that back in 1986, in defending his inclusion of another Andrew Garve mystery title in Collins' Jubilee reprint series, English crime writer and critic Julian Symons dismissed Murder in Moscow as "dated." And this was in 1980, mere months after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan! Sadly, Moscow is not dated at all, Symons' view notwithstanding. We see that every day in Ukraine.
The narrator of the novel of around 70,000 words is George Gurney, a wartime English journalist in Moscow who has returned to the city in 1951 to report on postwar changes there. Gurney is clearly a stand-in for the author, who spent the war years 1943-45 as a newsman in Moscow--though Garve himself likely never returned to Russia, having published several anti-Soviet books under his own name in the Forties after he reached England (see quotation above).
Through Gurney, Garve alludes to this most amusingly in the book:
"I thought all the correspondents who were in Moscow during the war were out of favor."
"Only those who wrote books about it when they got away. I didn't write a book."
En route via train to Moscow Gurney encounters the leftist delegation headed by bloviating English minister Rev. Andrew Mullett and including
Islwyn Thomas, a hotheaded Welsh nationalist
Robert Bolting, a Labour MP
Dr. Schofield, a prominent professor of economics
Perdita Manning, aristocratic sculptress, "a leading exponent of socialist realism" with "an infuriating drawl"--"a typical drawing-room Red"
Richard Tranter, "an official of one of the big peace societies"
Joe Cressey, a factory worker seeing the USSR for the first time as a protégé of Reverend Mullett
bibulous Mrs. Clarke, "the representative of some Cooperative Women's League in South London"
|Who murdered the minister in Moscow? The MVD won't tell!|
When Mullett is fatally bopped on the head with a bottle in his hotel room, an elderly waiter with links to the ancien regime is arrested and promptly "confesses" to the crime; yet Gurney is suspicious of the other members of the delegation and sticks his journalist's nose into the affair, along with his American friend and fellow newspaperman, Jefferson L. Clayton. Jeff, we soon learn, has a Russian girlfriend, Tanya, who is seemingly implicated in the business and is promptly packed off to the Crimea for a "vacation."
There are a couple of other reporter characters in the novel, a Mass Observation enthusiast and a droll and jaded chap by the name of Waterhouse, who is like something out of Graham Greene.
Of course this snooping by Western reporters into the killing incurs the wrath of the government, which means our amateur investigators must tread carefully. They know that in Russia people who don't toe the party line can lose their toes--and worse.
This in my estimation is a terrific book, with plenty of true detection (it might even be called a sealed room mystery--you will have to read it to see what I mean), a superbly rendered setting, good, frequently wry, writing and even a certain amount of moral force (if you believe, as I do, that the Soviet Communism was one of the great evils of the twentieth century). Further, we have the satisfaction of seeing justice done, at least as much as that was possible in such a situation. Justice was done distressingly rarely in the real Russia, but at least in fiction we can dream of better things.
Again oddly to me, Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor omitted Murder in Moscow from their 100 classics of crime and detection series, in favor of the first Andrew Garve crime novel, No Tears for Hilda (1950). In 1967 Garve himself informed Jacques Barzun that he thought Moscow "almost the best of his stories." He professed himself bemused that Barzun and Taylor preferred Hilda, which he deemed a "prentice work." Personally I agree with Garve! Though B&T did allow that Moscow was a "masterpiece." I agree with that too.
Like Smallbone Deceased (1950), by Garve's contemporary Michael Gilbert, Murder in Moscow is proof that the detective novel with its comforting certitudes was holding on as the world entered the second half of the turbulent twentieth century, where one totalitarian regime had been successfully resisted and then routed at great cost but another was running rampant. It's seven decades later but the Russian beast is ravenously prowling Europe once again.