x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Mystery of the east

Nick Platt is a British lawyer at the fag-end of his thirties, negotiating dodgy loans for dodgier oil consortia and relishing his escape from "the so-what life I'd left behind in London".

Snowdrops
AD Miller
Atlantic
Dh72

"In Russia," a marginal character remarks in the debut novel from The Economist's former Moscow bureau chief, "there are no business stories. And there are no politics stories. There are no love stories. There are only crime stories." He's wrong though: Snowdrops is all four, a corporate noir where the femme fatale is Russia itself.

Nick Platt is a British lawyer at the fag-end of his thirties, negotiating dodgy loans for dodgier oil consortia and relishing his escape from "the so-what life I'd left behind in London". An act of minor heroism on the metro sees him hooking up with the beguiling Masha, who soon has him papering over a murky housing transaction with an elderly relative. At the same time, his firm is getting into bed with an FSB thug known as "the Cossack".

Both relationships take precisely the unpleasant turn one might expect. Yet Nick's amazed observations ("Say what you like about the Soviets, they were the all-time champions of parquet…") and friskily attentive prose (in a vaguely Amisian touch the Cossack appears as if seen through night-vision goggles, "outlined in violence") mean his story is rarely less than bracing.