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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Case of
the General's Thumb


by
Andrey Kurkov


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Case of the General's Thumb



Title: The Case of the General's Thumb
Author: Andrey Kurkov
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 184 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Case of the General's Thumb - US
The Case of the General's Thumb - UK
The Case of the General's Thumb - Canada
The Case of the General's Thumb - India
  • Russian title: Игра в отрезанный палец
  • Translated by George Bird

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Our Assessment:

B : fast-paced, decent fun

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 3/4/2004 Alfred Hickling
The Observer . 5/4/2003 Oliver Robinson
The Telegraph . 22/3/2004 Jonathan Barnes
TLS . 14/3/2003 Oliver Ready


  From the Reviews:
  • "His plot is a convoluted caper, played with almost farcical urgency, in which everyone is secretly shadowing everyone else. It is intermittently amusing and darkly sardonic, but after a while one wearies of sentences such as "Victor grappled with the thought that Nik, like Georgiy, knew more than he, and that Georgiy must know more than Nik". But Kurkov redeems himself with a fine eye for incidental irony" - Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

  • "Plot is pushed along by an almost paranoid energy in Andrey Kurkov's satire on life in post-Soviet Ukraine. The style is Stalinist tenement block -- unadorned and edgy." - Oliver Robinson, The Observer

  • "Cutting between different storylines on every other page, this novel moves with the giddy pace of a Hollywood screenplay -- a kineticism only heightened by the spareness of Andrey Kurkov's prose." - Jonathan Barnes, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       For most of The Case of the General's Thumb the narrative switches back and forth -- in eighty-two often near-breathless chapters -- between what's happening to policeman Victor Slutsky and what Nik Tsensky is up to, before their missions and wanderings finally come to overlap.
       The novel is set in the late-1990s, in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Nik has spent most of his life in Tajikistan, but Russians no longer find themselves quite as welcome there, and he's looking for a new start -- if not in Russia proper, then maybe in Ukraine, where he might have an opportunity to be part of the fledgling local security service.
       There's a body, of course -- the general's -- delivered in most unusual style, then lost, then recovered, albeit sans thumb. Victor gets to investigate -- to his own surprise:

It feels like a setup. Petty crime's what I deal with. Not murdered Presidential Advisers !
       Meanwhile, Nik is sent off on mission-cum-wild-goose-chase through Europe, along with hard-to-control sidekick and hired gun Sakhno. Nik, too, feels a bit like a puppet -- or a cog in some enormous, complicated machine: money, passports, train tickets, and living arrangements are all mysteriously provided as needed, while instructions as to what actions to take come only in dribs and drabs, day by day, not making it easy for him to get any sense of any bigger picture. He and the irreverent Sakhno are sent to intimidate a few people, but much of that is just about small change, especially when compared to the huge amount of money he's actually on the trail of.
       It's hard for many of the characters not to think: "We're all just pawns", as one of them says, but there's a bit of space to maneuver in. Nik can't quite take the bull by the horns as Sakhno does, but for both him and Viktor things do eventually fall into place. They know that: "As in the Soviet past, bright new futures were elusive" -- but there's a chance of things working out.
       Kurkov's plot is a bit convoluted and far-flung, but he keeps things moving at a fast pace, and with enough action and sufficient unusual twists to make for a decent read; the unpredictable Sakhno, in particular -- half the time Nik has no idea where he's at or what he's up to -- keeps things enjoyably off kilter. The breathless, unpolished feel works reasonably well in a thriller about this particular post-Soviet world-in-turmoil, and it's a solid, quick, entertaining read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 March 2012

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Links:

The Case of the General's Thumb: Reviews: Other books by Andrey Kurkov under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Andrey Kurkov (Andrej Kurkow, Andreï Kourkov, Андрей Юрьевич Курков) was born in Leningrad in 1961 and now lives in Kiev.

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© 2012 the complete review

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