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by Anna Blundy
Thomas Dunne, April 2008
282 pages
ISBN: 0312368631

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Married in her teens to a Russian, Faith Zanetti's last memory of Russia is a murder in the apartment next door. When she returns to Russia as a British foreign correspondent, finding her estranged husband is the only solution to solving the murder.

When Faith Zanetti returns to Russia as a foreign correspondent for a British newspaper, she has little idea of how quickly the past will catch up with her. Almost immediately after arriving, the hard-drinking Zanetti is accused of the murders of a couple who once lived next door to Zanetti and her Russian husband, a black marketeer whom she married when she was just a teenager. That was fifteen years before; now, she must re-locate her estranged Russian husband to have any chance of finding out who committed the crime and why.

The journey to that discovery is the centerpiece of this mesmerizing story, with the brilliant (if jaded and often drunk) Zanetti leading the chase through the streets of post-Cold War Russia. Along the way, she will discover things about herself and others, as well as her past life in Russia, all of which seem unimaginable. This captivating snapshot of the modern Russia (blended with a youthful recklessness seen through the eyes of an adult Zanetti) is what makes this thriller so compelling.

Few writers today can evoke a sense of place better than Anna Blundy. She transports her readers to the Russia of today, a land that embraces the excesses of capitalism even while it fails to shake off the misery and ennui of its Communist past. She takes us behind the scenes of Russian institutions, obliquely examining the failure of Russian democracy. Blundy also inhabits perfectly the life of the hard-boiled war correspondent, set down in a foreign country with little more than wits to act as a guide.

While the expository plot line of the murders, the motivation, and the individuals surrounding the situation are all tightly drawn, with details teased out judiciously over the course of the novel, it is the setting of Russia itself that makes this book resonate. Similarly well done is the flawed heroine, Zanetti, a foul-mouthed, hard drinking, tough broad who is oddly endearing, holding in just enough of her emotions to enable her to do her work, even while readers long for her to allow herself some real happiness. It's the perfect combination of plotting and character development to raise this novel from a mere genre novel to something extraordinary.

VODKA NEAT, in short, is a wonderfully evocative thriller with a lot to say about modern day Russia, the world of journalism, and the internal lives of the people who staff those international correspondent roles. Within the context of one novel, author Anna Blundy has given her readers a thrilling plot line, fascinating characters, and the perfect setting for a truly unforgettable novel.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, June 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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