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A D Miller's Snowdrops was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. I imagine this was for the defiant and daring nature of his debut thriller, a retrospective tale from a British lawyer who spent a number of years in Moscow. The lawyer is Nicholas Platt, and Miller starts by making it clear this is a man wanting to explain something to his fiancee so that she knows the sort of man he is before they marry.
The fact that it is written suggests cowardice, and the tale itself doesn't deter you from this thought. Platt is a lawyer who works with two colleagues, a Russian and an Italian, in order to broker deals from foreign investors seeking to help fund Russian 'businesses'. To help explain this, one of the plot threads features Nick and his colleagues brokering the equivalent of a multi million pound deal with corrupt and dangerous people, involving characters from both sides of the law, some seemingly above it, some within in it, and some defying it and laughing at it.
Running alongside this is a sort of romance element to the novel. Nick falls for Masha, a stunning beauty by all accounts if the descriptions are to be believed, although I kind of think the presentation of the tale to his fiancee and the retrospective nature may taint his memories into thinking she's more stunning than she actually was. He saves her and her sister from a robber on a train, and despite the warnings from his friends of honey traps and women using their lure over men for ill gotten gains, he jumps in feet first, wishing to believe the best.
Somehow, we sort of know the results of everything before they all happen, and a separate lesser detailed sideline involving a missing neighbour and another who is more concerned about the disappearance than Nick himself lends itself to display Nick as a coward even more. Cowardice plays a large part in the characterisation of the book's subject, and as such you don't actually feel like you want to shake him and tell him to 'man up', you just despise him and wish he'd grow a pair instead of hoping that things will just turn out alright all the time.
In theory, this should have been a marvel of a book, but I just felt that it didn't really go anywhere. The plots meandered towards their ends, there were no surprises in store, and it all sort of petered out without having much of an effect on me. There were lengthy descriptions and detailed thoughts that I found hard top maintain my focus on, and if anything this made it one of the harder books to stay with through until the end.
There are a few saving graces, though. Miller clearly adores Moscow, if only from an interest perspective. The crime ridden prose throughout the book tells of corruption around every corner, that there should be no trust even among friends, and the physical descriptions of the streets and areas Nick inhabits and visits are expertly done and provide a clear vision for you to follow in your mind's eye as you read. Were it not for these moments and the anticipation of some of Nick's trust hopefully coming to fruition, I would have left the book a long way before the end. As it was, my disappointment was hampered by the stunning descriptive work.
However, were I after a geography, culture or history lesson on Moscow then it wouldn't necessarily have been a novel I would have turned to. Ian Rankin's success includes the vivid descriptions of the areas of Scotland the author uses, but the plot and characters are what makes you keep turning the pages; the same could be said of Michael Connelly and Los Angeles, Donna Leon and Venice, or any author who maintains a constant location in their work. A location is key and as a tool is often invaluable to an author, but that it cannot be all that holds it together, and many other elements of the book were found wanting in my eyes. I thought that the weakness of the character, although consistent, was annoying and somewhat over the top - no one is that naive all the time and able to be as successful as Nick had clearly become. The lengthy details of some of the business aspects of the story were overly drawn and confusing at times - less content and more impact would have made it flow better. It also lacked a decent conclusion to the content and plot threads, something that left me thinking that while it was slightly refreshingly different to not have a fanfare plot twist or anything, it petered out without so much of a sniff.
Overall then, despite the promising elements and the fact that this was not only shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize but was also included in the recent World Book Day top 100 novels of all time, I can honestly say that was unimpressed by this debut novel and somewhat disappointed. I can see how people with more of a pre existing knowledge of understanding of Moscow and Russian culture may find it holds more appeal for them, and it's certainly not a 'bad' book per se, but I just didn't enjoy anywhere near as much as I had hoped, thought and trusted I would do.