The Silver Bone (The Kyiv Mysteries, 1)

Written by Andrey Kurkov Boris Dralyuk (trans.)
Review by Janice Ottersberg

Andrey Kurkov is one of Ukraine’s greatest authors, with over 19 novels to date. The Silver Bone is his latest translated work and is set to be the first in a mystery series. Following WWI and the Russian Revolution, Kyiv in 1919 is beleaguered by different factions wanting control. In this absurdist novel of dark humor, Samson Kolechko’s career is on hold and his life tossed about by circumstances beyond his limits.

Cossacks attack with sabers on the street, killing his father and cutting Samson’s ear off. Back home and grieving his losses, he is now the last remaining member of his family. He wraps his severed ear, placing it in his father’s desk. When his home is requisitioned for two Red Army soldiers, his ear in the drawer, independent of himself, hears what the soldiers are plotting.

When his father’s desk has been mistakenly requisitioned, Samson heads for the police station to reclaim it. He finds that filling out the paperwork will not accomplish anything; his ear remains in the drawer. The police force has been mostly dismantled, and there is no one to use the desk, so the director hires Samson. Someone to track down criminals and restore a resemblance of order is sorely needed. The desk is now his. He can start by investigating what the two soldiers are doing with stolen goods stashed in his home – goods only made of silver. When he finds a life-size femur made of silver, he hunts down why this oddity was crafted.

This is a delightfully dark novel – refreshing, unique, comical. Kurkov introduces us to many quirky characters as Samson makes his way around Kyiv. He is a character that is so inimitable and loveable, I am happily looking forward to his further adventures in investigation. I’m sure his ear will be able to assist when needed.