A Killing Winter is a grim and gritty, but overall rote crime novel, from debut author Tom Callaghan. Its distinguishing feature is its locale. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is poles apart from the customary urban landscapes explored in most crime fiction. Overwhelmingly bleak (in winter, especially), it’s a boiling pot of duelling ethnicities; Kyrgyz’s, Uzbeks and Russians, all co-existing in a country imbued with corruption, from the highest ranks of officialdom to the lower ranks of the police force. And that’s not even mentioning the country’s underbelly…
When a young woman is found brutally slayed, Inspector Akyl Borubaev of the Bishkek Murder Squad is called in to investigate. Revered as the squad’s best detective, Borubaev’s mind is not solely on the case; he’s still mourning the recent death of his wife (tick that one off the detective stereotype checklist!). Borubaev quickly comes to the conclusion this could be the inaugural victim of a serial killer. The discovery of more bodies only strengthens that assessment. But when the first victim is identified as the daughter of a leading government minister, Borubaev realizes there’s more to these murders than meets the eye. And there are dark, powerful, and violent forces who do not want the truth revealed.
A Killing Winter embraces its hardboiled roots. Borubaev is archetypally cynical and abrasive; the sole truth-seeker in a society rife with corruption. He’s also trigger-happy; Borubaev’s trusty Yarygin handgun is never far from reach. Callaghan’s prose is taut and masculine, and free of the exposition that so often plagues first-time novelists. While the plot is not exactly ground-breaking, it’s solid, fast-paced and enthralling, and leaves plenty more ground to cover in the next novel, A Spring Betrayal.
Los Angeles has Harry Bosch; Olso has Harry Hole; Edinburgh has John Rebus. And now Bishkek has Akyl Borubaev.