A D Miller’s masterful debut is a riveting tale set in pre-credit crunch, post-Soviet Moscow in the mid-noughties where the money is flowing and corruption is rife.
Snowdrops is narrated by Nick, an English lawyer, and takes the form of a confessional letter to his wife-to-be about the events of one Moscow winter. The prologue opens with the discovery of a ‘snowdrop’—Moscow street slang for a corpse that is hidden by the winter snows, only to emerge in the spring thaw.
But Nick’s story really begins a year before, with a chance meeting on the metro when he comes to the rescue of Masha, a Russian woman in her early twenties. After seeing off an attempted mugger Nick is rewarded with Masha’s phone number, and they begin an affair. He soon becomes obsessed with the beautiful, inscrutable Masha and a teenage girl she says is her sister Katya. As Nick is drawn into their world, he becomes more and more seduced by life in modern Moscow. When Masha introduces him to her aunt, an elderly babushka living in a grace-and-favour apartment in central Moscow who now wishes to return to the countryside, Nick has no reason to doubt the story.
Meanwhile his day job involves working for a law firm that acts for Western banks who wish to loan money to Russian businesses, primarily in the oil industry. Surrounded by corruption, Nick slowly but surely starts to lose his own moral bearings in a world where all around him the boundaries between right and wrong are shifting.
For a debut novel (A D Miller’s first book was the family memoir The Earl of Petticoat Lane) this is remarkably accomplished—as evidenced by its appearance on both the Man Booker longlist, and the shortlist for the CWA Gold Dagger Award. The author was The Economist’s Moscow correspondent from 2004 to 2007 and as a former resident he evokes the city and its people with pin-sharp clarity. It’s this insider knowledge of Moscow that gives Snowdrops such a powerful sense of place. It’s also a moral thriller, a compelling tale of how one man gradually, almost imperceptibly, becomes complicit in some dark deeds.