“Siberian Light” By Robin White (Delacorte, 441 pages, $23.95)
Ironically, the hot new place for international skullduggery is rimey Siberia, where it is so cold they do not have metal doorknobs because one’s fingers would stick to them. You imagine the nogoodniks wearing gloves to protect their trigger fingers when they blast away at Gregori Nowek, the accidental hero of Robin White’s icy thriller, “Siberian Light.”
The onset of Old West lawlessness in the old Soviet Union has given rise to this new genre of shoot-and-chase fiction. English-speaking authors like White and, more famously, Martin Cruz Smith create in minute detail a fictional universe out of the terra incognita (to Westerners) patrolled by old KGB men, black marketeers and what the Russians call mafyia.
Nowek is mayor of a nowhere town called Markovo north of Yakutsk on the Lena River, eight time zones east of Moscow, a place so mind-numbing there always is a full house at Medical Sobering Facility No. 3.
His diligence in attempting to solve the vicious killing of a local biznisman sends Nowek flying off to land’s end, the northern reaches of his province where the old gulags still stand fearsome and, supposedly, empty. There is no villain like an old villain, namely an American oil combine, one which is plundering the resources - there are some - of the region 600 miles below the Arctic Circle. Enter the requisite beautiful female American scientist. She is from the University of Idaho, which, we are reminded in a cute twist amid a hail of Skorpion machine gun bullets, intergalactic TV cameras and the world watching on the Internet, is in Moscow, Idaho. The baddies at the AmRus oil combine, she suspects, are dealing bones from the endangered tigers of the Siberian Taiga to the Chinese.
Thematically, “Siberian Light” is another novel about the little guy up against the Goliath biznismen. The novelty of this genre is what makes you stick with “Siberian Light.”