Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thrillers and Borsch: Guest post by the Russian Queen of Crime Polina Dashkova

Celebrated as the “Russian Queen of Crime,” Polina Dashkova is Russia’s most successful author of crime novels. She’s sold fifty million copies of her books and has thrilled readers in countries across Europe and Asia. A graduate of Moscow’s Maxim Gorky Literary Institute, she has been active as a radio and press journalist and has worked as an interpreter and translator of English literature. Her books have been translated into German, Chinese, Dutch, French, Polish, Spanish, and English.

Polina Dashkova:
Thrillers and Borsch
I'm excited to see Madness Treads Lightly translated into English for the first time. I've known since I was fourteen that one day I'd write a novel entitled Madness Treads Lightly, however, what it would be about, I had no idea. It was a one-of-a-kind event: a title popping up all by itself, before any plan, plot, or heroes, and long before I could bring myself to write fiction.

For years, that mysterious combination of words -- "Madness Treads Lightly" -- would give me no rest. It became a kind of piggy bank where I tossed coins, especially small change; brief street scenes, and snatches of conversation. Sometimes I would divine the features of my future characters in friends and strangers.

Over the years, I had managed to travel nearly the whole country, read many books on psychology, psychiatry, and criminology, and studied several serial murder cases. I also spoke with the investigators and officers who had caught said serial murderers, and spoke with forensic psychiatrists who had studied those individuals. I traveled throughout Siberia, and fifteen years after my trip, I was able to write Madness Treads Lightly.

Now I want to share my novel with you with an excerpt from chapter one of Madness Treads Lightly, and a recipe you might want to cook to get in the mood to read my novel. I am a vegetarian, so I have included a classic recipe for Russian Borsch, but with a twist—no meat! I hope you all enjoy.

Vegetarian Borsch 

Important recipe notes from Polina:

**If you want your borsch to be not only delicious but good for health and salubrious, please do not fry your vegetables in oil!

**If you put garlic – don't use onion! If you want to add onion – don’t use garlic!

**Don’t use lemon or tomato – you don’t want your borsch to sour too soon.

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
Serves: about 12 people

8-10 cups water
1 Tbsp of salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 medium-size beets, chopped
½ cabbage, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 parsley root, chopped
4 medium-size potatoes, diced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 or 3 garlic cloves, crushed
2-3 tbsp olive oil 3 to 4 bay leaves

Using a large pot, boil 8-10 cups of water.
Add 1 tbsp of salt.
Add chopped beets, cabbage, celery, and parsley roots.
Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
When the liquid becomes a beautiful deep purple color, add diced potatoes, carrots, and crushed garlic and cook for another 10 minutes or so.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil last.
Add bay leaves and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
Remove borsch from the heat.
Let soup cool and chill overnight.
When you are ready to serve, add a dollop of sour cream and fresh herbs to each bowl.
You may also add some black olives or serve with rye bread, which makes the borsch taste especially good!

Excerpt from first chapter of MADNESS TREADS LIGHTLY: 

"A big bag of groceries was hanging off the stroller handle, so the second Lena lifted Liza to seat her properly, the stroller tipped all the way back and the bag split open.

"All fall down," Liza summed things up with a sigh, gazing from her mama's arms to the groceries strewn through the muck.

"Yes, my love, all fall down. Now we'll pick it all up." Lena had carefully set her daughter on the sidewalk and was picking the groceries out of the slush and brushing them off with her glove when she noticed someone in a blue Volvo parked across the street, watching her intently. The tinted windows reflected the snowdrifts and pedestrians, so Lena couldn't see exactly who was watching her, but she could feel that person's gaze.

"We do make an entertaining spectacle." She grinned as she managed to reattach the bag to the stroller handle, get Liza seated, and shake the dirt off her leather gloves.

When she turned into her own courtyard, she spotted the Volvo again. It drove by very closely, at minimum speed, as if the people in it wanted to remember exactly which door the young mother with the stroller entered.

There were two of them--a woman behind the wheel and a man in the passenger seat. Lena didn't get a good look at them, but they got an excellent one of her.

"Are you certain?" the woman asked quietly after the door shut behind Lena.

"Absolutely. She's barely changed in all these years."

"She has to be thirty-six now," the woman observed. "And that young mama couldn't be over twenty-five. And the child's so young. You haven't mixed something up? It's been a few years after all."

"No," the man answered firmly. "I haven't mixed anything up."

MADNESS TREADS LIGHTLY (AmazonCrossing, September 12th, 2017) by Polina Dashkova, translated by Marian Schwartz.

Dashkova tells the story of a working mother, Lena Polyanskaya, who is busy caring for her two-year-old daughter, editing a successful magazine, and supporting her husband, a high-ranking colonel in counterintelligence. Lena doesn’t have time to play amateur detective. But when a close friend’s suspicious death is labeled a suicide, she’s determined to prove he wouldn’t have taken his own life...even though she fears she might be the next victim.

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