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on 10 March 2010
I love Andrey Kurkov's books. Where else can you get such weird, yet utterly believable stories? Such depressed yet wholly human characters? He writes about Russia and Ukraine with authority (as you'd expect) and all the translations of his works so far have been very good, as far as I can tell. This one seems a little more colloquial but that probably comes from the first person perspective and comes quite naturally from the character.

I never go into the story much in reviews as it's pointless, but I'm happy to say that I wasn't disappointed reading this book and was pleased that it provides a more complete experience that the last one or two. Lots goes on and it's all wrapped up quite nicely, with some great symmetry to the story even though it seems to wander about a bit. I wondered with this one if Kurkov didn't kind of make it up as he went along, or let the story get away from him a bit in places - it's that unusual.

A great yarn, kind of a mystery story to begin with but later the sort of soul-searching and brilliant momentum you come to expect from a Kurkov novel.

7.5 / 10

David Brookes
Author of "Half Discovered Wings"
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Having read and very much enjoyed Andrey Kurkov's latest novel to be translated into English, The Milkman in the Night, I decided to catch-up on those of his novels that I had not yet read; The Good Angel of Death was one of them.

Like most of Kurkov's work, The Good Angel of Death is a thriller that, whilst not taking itself too seriously, conveys much that is true about today's Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Besides Ukraine, it is set in a number of the wilder former Soviet countries, including Astrakhan and Kazakhstan, and on a fish-packing factory ship on the Caspian Sea. Following death threats from criminals intent on stealing hallucinatory drugs with which he has a chance connection, the hero, Kolya, leaves Kiev in a hurry. His destination is not random, but is related to Ukraine's national poet, Taras Shevchenko, and some papers Kolya steals from a grave. After a long series of adventures that are variously life-threatening, hair-raising and surreal, Kolya finds what he is looking for and returns to a Ukraine obligingly made safe for him by officers - or perhaps they are former officers - of the SBU, Ukraine's successor organisation to the KGB. At all stages on the long, circular journey, we as readers gain much in the way of local colour, albeit that in some instances that colour is realistically drab.

Ever since Death And The Penguin, Kurkov novels have usually involved an animal or two, often exotic. With an enigmatic but remarkably tenacious chameleon and a she camel that saves Kolya's life, The Good Angel of Death is no exception.

Those are the best aspects of the novel. However, as a first person account of a long journey, the first half of which is undertaken by Kolya alone, the book is singularly lacking in dialogue and alternative points of view, and the first hundred pages or so consist of nothing but a hurried account, delivered in very flat prose, of some under-motivated and frankly unbelievable events such as the grave robbery. When, on page 156, we find a chapter describing the images and perceptions that pass through the mind of a drugged SBU colonel, it comes as a considerable surprise, if not actually a relief.

We are also treated to the odd philosophical insight, such as that the punishment of prison, properly conceived, is the separation of a man from his customary rituals. In the context of several of the countries visited in this novel, that is a strikingly liberal and humane point of view. But the odd remark on those lines is insufficient to redeem the many long stretches of narrative where the words never achieve lift-off from the page.

The good angel of death, incidentally - purportedly according to Kazakh legend - takes the form of a woman who follows a solitary traveller. If she decides she doesn't like him, she sends a scorpion and the traveller dies; if she likes him she sends a chameleon, which brings good luck. As already noted, the chameleon that adopts Kolya is enigmatic but tenacious.
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on 24 August 2009
If you have read and enjoyed Kurkov before then you will no doubt enjoy this too. The same wit is here, the same sly conceits of the characters and the same slight edge of the ridiculous which make such a compelling story.
This time our hero is not confined to one city bust instead sets out on a journey, inspired by the discovery of margin notes in a hidden book, across Asia. Along the way encountering KGB and other agents of shadowy organisations, locals, tramps and people who seem to be far more than they seem. The journey brings home to Kolya and his companions some understanding of their lives and thoughts. There. That sentence turned you right off didn't it? But it's not as precious as it sounds, yes you get absorbed in to the lives of these people but as I said before, with Kurkov the genius is in making the telling of the tale faintly odd. The daft, the strange and the funny make the experience of traveling across the desert and the Caspian sea great fun.
This is one of those books that feels so good to just read. If you've ever settled in with a book and just loved the feeling of reading it then you know what I mean.
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on 20 December 2012
This thriller was very unusual and a very good read. I enjoyed it very much and was interested to see as 2nd hand that it came from a charity shop in South England
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on 5 March 2015
A fantastic read
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on 30 November 2012
I read this book for its connection to Kazakhstan - but I am not sure that the writer has really been there as it full of all the usual cliches about beautiful submissive women and sand.
The parts set outside of Kaz are more believable - but I won't try another Kurhov ; too simplistic.
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