by Leonid Yuzefovich
Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
Shortlisted for the Read Russia Prize for Contemporary Fiction
The year is 1871. Prince von Ahrensburg, Austria's military attaché to St. Petersburg, has been killed in his own bed. The murder threatens diplomatic consequences for Russia so dire that they could alter the course of history. Leading the investigation into the high-ranking diplomat's death is Chief Inspector Ivan Putilin, but the Tsar has also called in the notorious Third Department - the much-feared secret police - on the suspicion that the murder is politically motivated. As the clues accumulate, the list of suspects grows longer; there are even rumors of a werewolf at large in the capital. Suspicion falls on the diplomat's lover and her cuckolded husband, as well as Russian, Polish and Italian revolutionaries, not to mention Turkish spies. True to his maxim that "coincidence and passion are the real conspirators," Putilin seeks answers inside the diplomatic circus as well, which leads him to struggles with criminals and with the secret police itself. When the mystery is solved, the only person who saw it coming was Putilin.
Harlequin's Costume is the first volume in a series whose main character is based on the real-life Ivan Putilin, the Tsar's Chief of Police in St. Petersburg from 1866 to 1892. The entire trilogy, Chief Inspector Putilin, appeared as a mini-series on Russian television in 2007.
"Translator Marian Schwartz has likewise pulled off another magic trick. From the dialogue between police officers to the musings of Putilin's biographer, Safonov, as he walks through "thickets of dog rose," her linguistic fluidity is seamless." -- Phoebe Taplin, Russia Beyond the Headlines, April 7, 2013
"Harlequin's Costume is a comedy of manners as much as a detective story: the mood remains lighthearted throughout and there's a fair bit of pure comic amusement, in Putilin's family life and Pevtsov's final comeuppance. The result is a pleasant entertainment in an intriguing setting, and I will keep a look out for translations of Yuzefovich's other two novels featuring Putilin." -- Danny Yee, August 2016