Magazine article The Spectator

The Sweet Smell of Danger

Magazine article The Spectator

The Sweet Smell of Danger

Article excerpt


by A.D. Miller

Atlantic Books, £12.99, pp. 288,

ISBN 9781848874527

If this novel is ever published with a scratch and-sniff cover - which incidentally, I think it might be successful enough to warrant - this is what it would smell of: cheap petrol, lust, the ripe, acidic scent of decaying corpse, cat litter, $2,000 suits, Cristal champagne, decaying encyclopaedia, corruption, fumes from the power plant, betrayal, sausage.

In short, a heady noseful of Moscow, an intoxicating perfume that will whirl you off your feet and set your moral compass spinning. For an expat lawyer such as the narrator, Nick, it is the whiff of opportunity, where even he has a chance with 'premierleague women' - not by dint of his personal charms, you understand, but because of his job, his salary, his British citizenship. At one level, Nick understands the nature of the transaction between himself and the beautiful tawny-haired Masha; when she asks to borrow $25,000 from him, he is relieved: 'I'd always known there had to be a price, and it turned out to be only money.'

At another level, however, he eagerly accepts the cloak of self-delusion that Masha offers him. As winter approaches, concealing Moscow's blemishes under a layer of innocent snow, Nick plays the big shot with Masha and her 'sister' Katya, taking them about town, revelling in the nightclubs with dwarves in tiger-skin thongs and naked girls in gold spray-paint. A perfect night spent at a dacha, broiling in the steam bath and then jumping in the snow - although the lies are starting to emerge, the sister who is not a sister, the aunt who is not an aunt - remains frozen in Nick's memory. …

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