Harlequin's Costume

Leonid Yuzefovich

translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
Glagoslav Publications 2013 [2001]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2016 http://dannyreviews.com/
St Petersburg in 1871. When the Austrian military attaché is murdered in his own bed, police Chief Inspector Putilin is called in but, because of the political implications, Captain Pevtsov from the secret police and his master Count Shuvalov are also involved. And they rather than the murderers will turn out to be Putilin's chief adversaries.

Harlequin's Costume is nicely paced, but is driven less by clues and detection than by the characters, with a good range of minor figures, notably Putilin's agents and the extensive array of suspects. The latter include the husband of the victim's lover, but are mostly more political: volunteers willing to be framed for various causes, a lieutenant obsessed with a new model rifle, Turkish agents, and Polish and Italian revolutionaries.

The historical background is also fascinating. The political machinations are international and diplomatic but also domestic, involving struggles between different parts of the bureaucracy and the seamier side of St Petersburg policing. But this is not overdone, and is fitted fairly seamlessly into the story. (Yuzefovich is himself a historian, whose PhD thesis was on early modern Russian diplomatic etiquette, but here he wears his learning lightly.)

Harlequin's Costume is a comedy of manners as much as a detective story: the mood remains lighthearted throughout and there's a fair bit of pure comic amusement, in Putilin's family life and Pevtsov's final comeuppance. The result is a pleasant entertainment in an intriguing setting, and I will keep a look out for translations of Yuzefovich's other two novels featuring Putilin.

August 2016

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%T Harlequin's Costume
%A Yuzefovich, Leonid
%M Russian
%F Schwartz, Marian
%I Glagoslav Publications
%D 2013 [2001]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781782670292
%P 263pp