Tangled Web UK Review June 2005
File Updated: 03/06/2005

Buy at Amazon Price A Matter of Death and Life A Matter of Death and Life by Andrey Kurkov
pbk out March 05 (Harvill) at £10

An early (1996) novella, not much more than a short story really, from the pen of the quirky Ukrainian, Andrey Kurkov. But it just might give you a taste for the later novels.
It's a simple story. Depressed by his "dead-end situation in life" and lacking the will power to commit suicide, Tolya employs, at one remove, a hitman for the job. Only he discovers some kind of zest for life in his new relationship with a young prostitute, and must find a way of preventing his own death. That this will involve employing a further hitman to remove the first is, you may protest, not a purely Ukrainian solution. But there is much more originality to come, notably in the later twists and turns of Kurkov's tale, ones that I think most crime fans might enjoy.
Meanwhile enjoy Tolya's wry observations of life in post-Soviet Kiev as, "lacking the necessary will, freedom or cash" he stomps the streets "in a state of mild trepidation…studying the faces of the girls waiting for clients… displaying in semi-darkness and street lighting, all the promise of a lurid book jacket." A local version of Six Degrees of Separation, for example that uses known killers instead of Kevin Bacon. Or a definition of being alive: "what one was so long as no-one knew anything to the contrary."
George Bird provides a very readable translation, as he does with later Kurkov novels Death and the Penguin and Penguin Lost (both available in paperback from Vintage), to which you might very well wish to gravitate.

( Bob Cornwell )

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