Picks and Pans Review: Siberian Light

updated 09/22/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/22/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Robin White

This murder mystery may be set in the Siberian tundra and taiga, but it's a jungle out there. White's fifth thriller takes us to the farthest reaches of the post-Soviet-era outland, a lawless world of thieves and dirty deals where only the corrupt and cunning survive. So when a well-connected local businessman is savagely murdered along with two neighborhood militiamen, Gregori Nowek, the idealistic mayor of Markovo (whose campaign slogan was, "Be honest: can I do any worse?"), throws himself into the investigation. Was it the local mafiya? Partners in an American-Russian joint venture to whom the dead man had ties? Or his ex-mistress, the beautiful scientist Anna Vereskaya?

White employs every plot device and stock character in the genre. There's the requisite evil apparatchik and his henchmen, a sadistic pilot who has a way with a knife; love blooms between the prime suspect and the mayor (who must also contend with a runaway teenage daughter in peril); the author even works in endangered tigers, lunar-surface vehicles and the Internet. The narrative is brisk, and the prose is appropriately hard-boiled ("Those dreams...lay shattered like the vodka bottles around the base of the oil monument"), but the sex and violence—usually conjoined—are gratuitous and offensive. Even the good guy's pet (a calico cat) devours the villain's mascot (a ferret) in the end. Still, Light manages to be a decent thriller despite the overkill. (Delacorte, $23.95)

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