Dating a detective: the Russian thrillers of Kozuki Kumanov

Sod off. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt my daydreams while I sat on my patio on a Saturday. The sun had even come out, but I was oblivious to it. The sea…

Dating a detective: the Russian thrillers of Kozuki Kumanov

Sod off. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt my daydreams while I sat on my patio on a Saturday. The sun had even come out, but I was oblivious to it. The sea was empty. I’d had enough. I could not wait to go home and fall asleep while I imagined how my kitchen was to become the town police station … where homefront sisters might look at the ghost of their murdered father … where a truly amateurist engineer with paranoia dreams, who mistakes panic attacks for hallucinations, waits anxiously … where the poor lab staff discovers a flesh-eating virus … where a waitress covered in strange lesions marks her sickly lover with a ring of tattooing … where two fraud detectives investigate something they don’t understand … and on it goes.

I’d seen enough onscreen portrayals of police work that all I needed to do was imagine … something was always wrong. Fiction allowed me to make that sense for myself.

This next character’s story is about badness, of course, but not malice. The psychopath who can do nothing nice to anyone and somehow never gets caught, but whether as a drug dealer or serial killer or shrink was blurring into a blank as the research took it’s toll …

A missed fire alarm, a neglected dirty laundry pile, an errant hanger. The detectives who had been investigating these incidents were distracted or too exhausted to get down to the meat of the case. What seemed to the late-night wanderings of a grifter became, until I took on the role of the detective, a tangential story: a slow-burning horror genre noir from me about a detective’s temporary masochism and my close relationship with his fatally flawed character.

Another character is a case of mischievous children. The boy is creepy. Like Mr Rochester, but in 2015 Berlin. From the moment he sees me on a dark street corner looking for a walk-in closet he makes no attempt to talk to me. At a family gathering, I sense that he has an unpleasant family that never liked me. I become too frightened to go to their place for a while. I avoid anything that sounds Asian, an indication of a little boy from the wrong side of the tracks. I slowly discover what I think is actually the school bully with the desire to hurt.

In a strange place where money and I appear to be the only two things a mother and child could come into contact with, a shifty old woman with power over money and the inside line on what the family can afford, a man who spent a long time in prison, a man with a card game called Mister Benshan, a man who used to carry a gun, a dangerous game turned from the village in which the characters were born into an abstracted city with its own rules, a man whose wife apparently doesn’t make much money and my boyfriend.

I’m always trying to get a better read on a case, a calmer, detached way of understanding the psychological puzzle. With this final story, I went back to the earlier stories and read all that period of inner conflict that led to it. This was the most exciting, it was the one I was dying to read, but I didn’t know until then how it was going to come together in its form. I had a short story called Lost Puppy, in which the detective who enjoyed intensely feeling strongly about what he read about his girlfriend’s abandonment and disappearance had been a puppy himself. It started with the puppy getting killed and how the chief detective had let him go. That story took me back to my childhood and the loss of a puppy. It made me realise that all my characters have one trait in common: curiosity that is neither rational nor objective.

Jakov Kumanov is a Russian and Belarusian author of crime fiction. He lives in Barcelona.

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