x Punishment of a Hunter - Yulia Yakovleva

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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Punishment of a Hunter

Yulia Yakovleva

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To purchase Punishment of a Hunter

Title: Punishment of a Hunter
Author: Yulia Yakovleva
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 398 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Punishment of a Hunter - US
Punishment of a Hunter - UK
Punishment of a Hunter - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • A Leningrad Confidential
  • Russian title: Вдруг охотник выбегает
  • Translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

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Our Assessment:

B : good on the place, time, and conditions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 3/8/2022 .
The Times . 20/9/2021 Mark Sanderson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Yakovleva perfectly balances evoking the terror of living in a police state with her whodunit plotline. Fans of Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko will hope to see much more of Zaitsev." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       There was little detective fiction of the traditional sort -- the police investigating good old fashioned murder, robbery, and the like -- written and set in the Soviet Union for most of its existence, with the 'crimes' that did feature in the fiction of the day mostly involving, at best, sabotage and subversion (with the evil elements behind the acts often foreign or class-enemies). Punishment of a Hunter is of interest not least because, although a recent novel, it looks at criminal activity and police investigation -- and daily life in general -- in the earlier Soviet years.
       Set mostly in Leningrad -- though with forays to Moscow as well -- the novel begins in 1930, with detective Vasily Zaitsev beginning his investigation of the murder of a single woman in her thirties in her room. Like Zaitsev -- and much of the population --, the victim didn't have a whole apartment to herself, but rather just a room: Yakovleva captures the living conditions of the time well -- the cramped spaces, busybody neighbors, and communal bathrooms. (Among her amusing observations is of the frustration of the workers who were assigned housing in the grand domiciles of the wealthy of St. Petersburg but are annoyed by the long commutes they must now endure to their factory jobs, which are of course far from the city center.)
       Zaitsev lives very humbly, with barely any possessions. Like so many people, he has pieces of his past that he'd rather keep the authorities in the dark about -- in his case also in the form of a photograph that he can't bring himself to part with (even as he wonders: "But what if this picture cost him his life "). Very early on, it already looks bad for him: the purges have begun, and although Zaitsev has thought himself safe -- "My background's about as prole as you get. They won't find anything on me" -- his purge review does not go well. Called to a murder, he isn't immediately detained, but soon enough OGPU -- the secret police -- pick him up and jail him.
       Zaitsev is soon released -- he's needed, as there's been yet another murder -- but the taint of arrest will hang over him. It is a time of great suspicion, and especially his colleagues can't help but wonder what deal with the devil (or OGPU) Zaitsev might have made to secure his release.
       There are several bodies at the next murder scene -- as well as a baby, still alive. Among the dead is also a black American who has come to live in the Soviet Union -- another interesting element Yakovleva throws in, and the investigation then reveals quite a bit about the idealistic foreigners who came here to study and work, as well as local attitudes (including racial ones) towards them.
       There's something unnatural about the crimes -- they look (and indeed prove to be) carefully staged, almost posed. Still, Zaitsev finds himself frustrated that, no matter how much they look into their backgrounds: "There seemed to be no link whatsoever between the lives of the victims and their deaths". But he does come to realize that the murders are connected ..... And, as the novel's title is taken from that of a Paulus Potter painting, it's not surprising that, eventually, an art-connection is established -- with Zaitsev realizing: "The paintings and only the paintings were the key to what was going on".
       Zaitsev works together with some interesting characters, including Demov, wo had already been a detective before the Revolution. Having arrested, back then: "a minister, an officer of the guards and the owner of the third-largest fortune in the empire" served him well under the new regime, allowing him to be a rare holdover from Czarist times in such an important position.
       There's also a romantic entanglement for the mostly lone-wolf Zaitsev; it, too, is not without its complications.
       Punishment of a Hunter wends its way somewhat haltingly towards its resolution. There is some suspense, but much of it is spread a bit thin. With the concerns about the purges and who can be trusted and all the possible ulterior motives of the various actors, the crimes themselves have difficulty staying at the fore.
       Yakovleva is good at suggesting life in those times -- placing the action at a time of significant shift, as, as one character points out to Zaitsev:

Haven't you noticed ? The twenties -- all that dashing about and derring-do -- it's over, Vasya. Things are different now.
       And they're even more different at the end, in a nice final point driven home by Yakovleva .....
       Punishment of a Hunter is middling as a crime story -- though aspects of the idea behind it that emerge are certainly interesting --, but the novel does appeal for its glimpse of early 1930s Soviet Russia, with both the conditions of the times and many of the elements and forces at play effectively presented by this large cast of characters.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 November 2022

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Punishment of a Hunter: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Yulia Yakovleva (Юлия Яковлева) is a Russian author.

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© 2022 the complete review

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