I’d been meaning to read a bit more Soviet-era fiction, particularly science fiction. And any exploration of that area is likely to involve the brothers Strugatsky: writers known for some excellently grim work with a coating of political commentary. (Roadside Picnic, filmed as Stalker is a supreme bummer, for starters.)
So it’s a bit of a surprise that my first Strugatsky novel turned out to be a detective story, free – mostly – of politicking, which features a collection of oddballs and a super-sentient dog.
Though it was written in 1970, and has been turned into a video game and a film, this novel – the brothers’ 17th – wasn’t translated into English until 2015. This Neversink translation, by Josh Billings, maintains a certain air of pre-glastnost oddity, without appearing too dated. It’s a text that zips along pretty well, in a manner that immediately suspends disbelief. There’s a lot of strange stuff in here, but nothing appears too improbable, such is the mood created.
Fundamentally, the novel describes inspector Peter Glebsky’s failed holiday to a the hotel of the title. Glebsky is expecting a couple of weeks of relaxation in the snow, but that’s not what ends up happening, thanks to murder, an avalanche, a magician, some rich jerks, stolen watches and assorted pranks. And as the only representative of law and order, it’s up to the inspector to figure the whole affair – impossible murder and all.
I won’t give away the ending, but things ramp up pleasingly. There’s a lot of misdirection, and the wheels maybe come off towards the end of things, but it’s an enjoyable, silly ride. There’s a distinct combination of darkness and silliness that appeals, even if it sometimes doesn’t make as much sense as it should.
If you’ve not read any Strugatsky books, this is a good place to start. Its curious subversion of the expectations of a locked room mystery soon ramps up into a surprisingly enjoyable level of bonkers.
(My Goodreads profile is here.)