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Madness Treads Lightly

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Madness Treads Lightly by Polina Dashkova is a Russian mystery where only three people can connect a present-day murderer to a serial killer who, fourteen years ago, terrorized a small Siberian town—and one of them is already dead.

Polina Dashkova, dubbed Russia’s Queen of Crime, first published Madness Treads Lightly in Russian in 1998. This edition was translated by Marian Schwartz, which I found surprising given Dashkova’s work as a translator herself. I’m not entirely sure that the translator served this book well, as Russian naming conventions were preserved, which can be a bit confusing to an American audience and contributed to my inability to become immersed in the story right away. But regardless of that, once I became accustomed, I found the story interesting, if standard, for a thriller.

The novel takes place in two time periods and two locations. Lena Polyanskaya is our protagonist, a young mother living in Moscow in 1996 who edits a prominent magazine and is married to a high-ranking police officer. She soon learns that an old friend of hers, Mitya, has died of suspected suicide, but she finds it all suspicious even though Mitya’s sister, Olga, has accepted it without question. But the further Lena digs, the more she feels that Mitya’s death was no accident and might, in fact, be somehow connected to a string of murders that happened in Siberia in the 1980s.

Flashback to Siberia, 1981, and Venya Volkov, a member of the Young Communists, is assigned to escort Lena, Mitya, and Olga while they travel the Siberian countryside on behalf of Lena’s magazine. Mitya, a young singer/songwriter, performs music while the two women recite fiction and recruit writers. Venya has developed an intense crush on Lena, and she’s often forced into situations that make her extremely uncomfortable but doesn’t resist because she feels that it’s the safer option.

Of course, red flags are popping up all over the place at this behavior, but one wonders if this is the norm for young women in Communist Russia, or if this guy is over the top crazy. And it didn’t stop in the ’80s. He’s carried a torch for her for 14 years, and when he reenters Lena’s life years later, it’s just a creepy and just as intense:

    As long as I pretend I’m ready for anything, I’m safe. And so is Liza. But what if he realizes his love is like a bone stuck in my throat? He might even kill me himself. He might.

I have very much simplified a lot of the plot of this novel because it’s incredibly long with a lot of exposition, flashbacks, and flashforwards from multiple points of view—sometimes Lena; sometimes Mitya’s widow, Katya; sometimes Venya; and sometimes Venya’s wife, Regina. And it flashes back and forth between time periods as well. It took a very long time for all of the disparate threads and points of view to come together towards a cohesive plot, but once it did, the pacing picked up, leading towards a not entirely unpredictable conclusion.

The scenery is possibly the most stunning and interesting element of the novel. When someone mentions Siberia, I generally think of snow and frozen tundras, but Dashkova’s descriptions of a deeply forested and frozen land are magical and lend a certain level of grandeur to an otherwise ordinary thriller:

    Spring came late to Tobolsk, but was always stormy and swift. The ice broke on the Tobol and the Irtysh majestically. On clear days, sunlight fractured the large, slow-moving ice floes, which splintered in the heavy, dark water, and sometimes a vivid rainbow would shimmer at the cracks. Then came the high waters. The two Siberian rivers, which flowed together in the old town, would leave their banks and, together with the first real May rains, wash away the last remnants of snow. But in the taiga, there could be snow in low-lying areas as late as June.

Overall, this is a fine novel if you’re interested in Russia and the changes that took place in the ’80s and ’90s when the country transitioned from communism to capitalism as well as wonderful descriptions of the land from a native.
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Madness Treads Lightly is a well executed and delicately balanced serial killer thriller set in Russia. Often this genre is so heavy handed but Dashkova writes lightly and so well (and Schwartz translated well).
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Well written and interesting, but doesn't really stand out or pull you in.. Overall an OK read.
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I’m not a natural reader of crime fiction and this one didn’t engage me. As a Russophile I certainly enjoyed discovering Polina Dashkova who is one of Russia’s most popular and successful crime fiction writers, and the detail about life in Russia and Siberia in the 1990s and Soviet times, was interesting and atmospheric. But overall I found the plot and characterisation pretty unconvincing and can’t say I enjoyed it. The storyline is conventional enough for a crime novel. The apparent suicide of her friend Mitya leads Moscow journalist Lena Polonskaya on an increasingly dangerous quest to find out what really happened and it soon becomes clear that there are many secrets and lies to be uncovered. Not a bad book by any means, if a little over-reliant on unlikely coincidences, but just not one for me.
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It took me awhile to get into the book due to the Russian names for persons and places. But after a few chapters the story flowed by and it was worth the effort. Great story with a perfect ending. I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thanks to NetGalley and AmazonCrossing!
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Reading the description, I had very high hopes about this book but it disappointed me. I'm not sure if it's just the 'russian writing style' that I didn't like or something vanished of the essence of the story during translating but it wasn't at all what I expected. I prepared myself to a gripping, overly exciting novel but I was mostly just bored and annoyed while reading. I'm sorry, it doesn't work for me.
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What We Say:
There is so much to like and dislike in Madness Treads Lightly that I felt like a bouncing ball while reading it. This sprawling suspense novel set in the mid-1990s marks the English language debut of Polina Dashkova, the “Russian crime queen” who has sold a reported 50 million copies around the world. On the one hand there is our heroine Lena, a young married editor at a literary magazine who gets involved in solving a crime, the not very convincing “suicide” of a young songwriter friend. On the other hand, there is also Lena, a heroine whose actions seem soft and internal when you put them up against what she faces -- especially since what she faces are psychotic killers, organized crime and corrupt police. Lena often talks the mystery out to herself before proceeding with her amateur investigation, something we’re not really used to in our modern neck of the woods. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. (And not even of the Russian soulful variety we might expect – there is no brooding on good and evil here.) Still, the characters are fascinating, including a serial killer who falls in love and his chillingly evil wife who was once one of the ugliest women in Russia until Swiss doctors turned things around. And what about Lena’s daughter, one of the cutest two year olds around? With a journey across Old Russia and New Russia, sleazy hotels in Siberia and fancy clubs in Moscow, this becomes a fascinating if uneven piece of work. – Janet Rotter
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Will learning the truth unmask a killer…or put her and her family in even more danger?
This book has been translated from Russian, it was originally released in 2000 in Russia and this is the first of her book to ever get translated.
It is set in Moscow and Siberia and switches between 1996 and the 1980's, between communist and post-communist Russia which is really interesting, seeing how much things changed from an inside prospective.
It also switches between different view points, from Lena to Veniamin "Venya" Volkov and his wife Regina Valentinova.
Lena Polanskaya is a young mother of a two year old daughter, a journalist, the editor of a magazine and wife to a very high ranking policeman, a Colonel in Counterintelligence.
When Lena hears that her friend Olga's brother Mitya has committed suicide by hanging both ladies have their doubts but his death was recorded as suicide. 
Then a few days later his widow is found dead from a fatal apparent overdose.
Both Lena and Olga know Mitya isn't the sort of man to commit suicide so Lena decides to do an investigation of her own.
As she starts looking into his death and searching the past for any clues as to why anyone would wish him dead or even if there is a reason he would have had no other way out it begins to look like there is a connection between Mitya's death and a spate of killings that took place 14 years ago in Siberia.
But digging up the past has drawn attention to Lena and someone out there knows the truth, and the closer she gets to finding the answers the more danger she finds herself in, her own live becomes a target and as the danger ramps up she fears for her families safety. 
Someone does not want the truth to get out but how far are they willing to go to protect it?
This book takes a bit of time to get used to the style of writing due to the translation but once you have it is well worth a read!
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​I have been taking a literary trip around the world with the assistance of AmazonCrossing. It’s really interesting to experience how authors in other cultures write and develop their stories.  For this leg of my voyage, I’m off to Russia with Polina Dashkova’s Madness Treads Lightly.

You may think that my reasons are crazy, but I got off to a bad start with this book. There were a lot of characters (I hear my wife saying, “You read Game of Thrones.”) with unusual names (again, she says, “But you read Game of Thrones!”).  It took me a bit of time to figure out who was doing what to whom (No. It’s not that kind of book.).

Eventually, I figured out that in Russia people have three names; these names are used individually or in twos depending on the relationship with the person and the situation they are in.  As a fan of Roman history, I get it, I just didn’t know that it was a Russian thing as well. I respect that this is how things are done in Russia. But as this is a translated book targeted for the American market, I think that the flow would have been better had the translator adopted a more easily relatable standard for addressing the characters.

Now that my translation issue has been addressed…on to the story.

Once I was able to get my characters straight, I was able to really get into the story.  Dashkova has written a suspense-filled cat-and-mouse story with some great surprises along the way.  I was caught up in the story, and the characters.

The story bounced back and forth between communist and post-communist Russia.  It was interesting to get the perspective on these two very different periods from someone who lived through it.

Madness Treads Lightly was a good book that kept me involved.  I would definitely read more books by Dashkova in the future.

*4 Stars
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A taut psychological thriller set during the societal upheaval as Russia pivoted towards capitalism during the 1980s and 90s. It is not only a wonderfully crafted crime thriller, but it is also an interesting look into the social and moral issues Russia faced as the average person tried to find their way in a new unchartered world, in which most were not prepared to enter.
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Everything is possible in Russia.

Lena Polyanskaya is involved into a mysterious murder and she doesn't even know how long in the past this has started. In a summer 14 years ago a group of young people travelled to Siberia to perform a task for their employer and unknowingly they met with a murder. Now is the year of 1996, after the end of Communism and right into the wild post-communist era, and Lena's old friend Mitya is dead. Suicide, they say. But Mitya's wife is not satisfied with the answer and nor Lena is. Might there be some ugly secret hidden - or more of them?

Well, this book is about all that - and isn't. I live in the post-communist country, but not Russia, so I don't know that much neither about the Soviet/Rusian reality nor about the Russian soul. I am sure that some of the realities, issues and even emotions are truly real. And I find this aspect quite interesting and educative. 

But as for the mystery - this novel is lacking in the logic department. Some plot parts are quite far-fetched and conveniently plotted here. This is more thriller than a traditional mystery novel as the crude details are much more important that any internal logic. Novel is also very prolonged and a good editor might have made wonders. 

But, in the other hand, I was able to emotionally connect with at least some of the characters - sensitive addict Katya, Blindboy, Misha the policeman or even Venia (at least in some moments if his suffering). This doesn't make the book a better mystery, but it makes it a more readable one.

Don't read this novel if you are interested in good old mystery. But of you want to know a bit about Russia, its past and heritage, you might gather some parts of the mosaic here.
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This is the first mystery by a popular Russian crime writer to be translated into English.  Written and taking place in the 1990s, it is an interesting look at modern Russia from the inside.  The plot and characters are complex - a rich music producer, an unusual psychotherapist, a musician and his drug addict wife, a journalist and her childhood friend, a serial killer, a hit man, security service detectives and bodies, lots of bodies.  The action takes place in Moscow and Siberia, past and present, among rich and poor.  The pace very gradually builds, the writing and translation are excellent, and the plot is somber and intricate, and should appeal to anyone who likes Scandinavian mysteries.  A bit dark for my personal taste, but I do recommend it.
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This is a terrific page-turner.  Once I started it, I raced through it.  Dashkova did a particularly fine job of creating Regina:  the ice-cold quality of everything Regina said and did was chilling.
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Thrilling, riveting, spine-tingling and psychologically creepy!
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This is a Russian translated novel by prolific and popular author, Polina Dashkova, although so far this is the only one that has been translated. It is set in Moscow and Siberia and within two different Russian historical periods in 1996 and the 1980s. Lena Polyanskaya is a busy and hardworking mother of a two year old daughter, is a journalist and magazine editor, and the wife of a high ranking policeman, a Colonel in counterintelligence. The brother of a close friend of Lena, Mitya, hangs himself and it is ruled as a suicide. Lena is not so convinced, something does not feel quite right, he just does not seem the type to take his own life. The story is delivered through the perspectives of Lena, 'Venya' Volkov and his wife, Regina. 

Lena investigates and finds connections to historical murders in Siberia. She is tracked by Volkov and Regina, and the closer she comes to the truth, the more danger she finds herself in and she becomes seriously worried about her family. In terms of crime fiction, this is a well plotted and straightforward tale that brings few surprises. Where the novel excels is in the details of Russian life, politics, culture, and the huge criminal elements, this allows us to compare and contrast two different eras separated by a mere fourteen years. The Soviet Communist era differs substantially from the 1990s deregulation of lives and the economy. If you are interested in these periods of recent Russian history, then I recommend this novel which comes from a Russian perspective. Many thanks to Amazon Crossing for an ARC.
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What a terrific book this is, I really enjoyed it. Not only is the story a real nail bitter, with a highly likeable female heroine, it also gives one a fascinating look into Russia in the 1990's.
Lena, the editor of a successful magazine in Moscow, is the happily married mother of a 2-year old little girl.
Life is hectic, but pleasant and manageable.  
When her best friend's brother hangs himself and the police shelve the case as a suicide, both the victim's sister and Lena have a nagging feeling that it was more sinister, and Lena starts looking into the death as murder. 
There is a sinister connection with a serial killer that dates back to the 1980's when the 3 friends were on a trip in Siberia. We meet the serial killer early in the book and as despicable as he is, his wife is completely and utterly evil.  The couple run a media empire and as Lena gets closer to the truth, there are several attempts on her life and she begins to wonder what she got herself into, will she ever see her husband and daughter again?
There is an atmosphere to this book that reminded me of all the Scandinavian mysteries I've read (and loved!). Therefore I was so disappointed to find out this is the one and only book by the author translated into English.  There are 27 books in the series, please hurry up and translate more!  I want to sink back into Lena's life...
Thank you Netgalley and AmazonCrossing for the eARC, I really appreciated the read.
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4 stars

This book is set in 1996 Russia. It goes back and forth between fourteen years earlier and present day (1996).

Lena Polanskaya is a young mother of a two-year old daughter and the editor of a magazine. She supports her police detective husband. When she learns from her friend that another friend named Mitya has committed suicide she can’t believe it. But who would want to kill him?

As she investigates the incident, she learns that the “suicide” seems to be connected to some old homicides that took place in Siberia. As a side note, when the book flashes back to the early 1980’s, it is interesting to see the difference in the Soviet era when compared to modern day Russia. 

Lena’s search brings her to the attention of two very bad people named Venya and Regina who begin to track her movements. When another friend falls victim Lena suspects that she may be next. 

This book is full of little factoids about living in present day Russia versus when it was the Soviet Union. I found that part particularly interesting. The contrasts were vast. 

I believe it to be well written, translated and plotted. This is my first Polina Dashkova novel, but I will most certainly look into her other works. The suspense was well handled, and it ratchets up as we near the denouement of the book. 

I want to thank Netgalley and AmazonCrossing for forwarding to me this most interesting novel to read.
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I would like to thank Netgalley and AmazonCrossing for an advance copy of Madness Treads Lightly, a Russian novel set in 1996 Moscow and Siberia.

Lena Polanskaya is upset when she hears that her friend, Mitya, has committed suicide but when she looks closer she wonders if it really is suicide and then why anyone would kill him. The reader is in no doubt that it is murder and has the reason early on in the novel as the novel switches point of view frequently from Lena to Veniamin "Venya" Volkov and his wife Regina Valentinova. When Lena starts looking closer she soon attracts their attention.

Madness Treads Lightly is a long but interesting read. On the surface it is a fairly standard thriller - baddies trying to eliminate anyone who could reveal their secrets but the setting makes it different. It is full of little details about the Russian way of life and the pervasiveness of criminals in 1990s Russia. Some of the plot seems ridiculous until you remember this setting and then it seems much more plausible. I also think that the flashbacks to 1982 when the system was in full communist swing are interesting and informative in their mundane detail.

Lena is a very normal protagonist, a working mum married to a policeman. I don't feel she comes across as particularly Russian and could be any nationality. I don't think this is disappointing, more of a surprise, as it makes it easy to identify with her and get involved in her troubles.

The main thrust of the novel is the characters of Venya and Regina. They are damaged individuals and the novel makes it clear that upbringing and personality both play a part in this damage. I can't say that I found them particularly convincing, especially Venya, but they make sense in a twisted way.

Madness Treads Lightly is not a bad book, just a bit clichéd but as it was originally written in 2000 this is understandable. I would be interested to read some of Ms Dashkova's more recent novels to see how she progresses her characters and novels.
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Lena is busy caring for her young daughter, taking care of her husband, who has a high-ranking military job and editing a magazine. The last thins she has time to do is play Nancy Drew, but when a good friend’s death is marked as  suicide, Lena knows she must intervene. She knows her friend would never have killed himself, and her research proves her right; pointing her back to a decades old serial killer. The case should be ice-cold, but then someone else Lena knows is murdered and it becomes clear that the murders are a warning. Is Lena willing to risk the lives of her family to uncover a Soviet era mystery?
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