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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Diary of a Tsar-in-Waiting
By Michael Romanov

Somehow as winter draws on in Moscow two things seem to happen simultaneously: the nights get darker and the reports in the press of murders get more lurid. We seem to live in a very violent society and it will be one of my main priorities when I am elected Tsar to tackle this issue.

In doing so, I intend to follow the British example. More police are not the answer. It is unconventional methods which bring results. The real, unsung successes of British crime detection are cases which have been solved with the use of either foreign refugees or local amateurs, anything in fact other than the offcial police. I am sure this is a recipe which will work in Moscow too.

Its triumphs in Britain are no secret. They are the subject of a monumental, eighty-volume history, called the Christie Report. Millions of copies have been sold, worldwide. Anyone who believes day-to-day life in Moscow is more risky than that in suburban England should read it. Moscow is not as bad as people make out.

Speaking personally, not only have I never killed anyone, I have never been the subject of a killing. If just once I had actually been murdered myself, I might be more disposed to believe the stories in the media about the violence of Russian society. But I can only speak as I find and I have to report that as of this writing, I remain entirely unmurdered.

Would this have been the case had I elected to stay in Britain? I wonder. The Christie Report makes chilling reading. It seems that if you are a member of genteel society you are very likely to be killed by arsenic, potassium-cyanide or strychnine poisoning, or shot through the temple with a pearl-handled pistol concealed in a lady’s handbag, or stabbed in the neck with a poisoned hat-pin while taking tea at the Café Royal. And what is most worrying is that not once, in the entire eighty volumes, is there a report of a case which was cleared up by the police.

The first volume in the series was issued as far back as 1920, incidentally illustrating the fact that crime is embedded historically in English society. A wealthy lady from rural Essex was poisoned by her husband in order that he should inherit her money. After the police are baffled by the facts of the case, a house-guest who is an old friend of the murdered lady’s son, calls on the services of a middle-aged Belgian war-time refugee who happens to be living in the village attached to the estate. He potters up to the big house, finds clues everyone else has missed and solves the case.

The Report is structured in such a way that every case is the subject of its own, separate descriptive protocol. One of the most remarkable of these concerns the murder of a Mr. Roger Ackroyd who was killed after yet another wealthy lady was found dead, this lady in turn having been suspected of killing her husband. The most astonishing fact of that case was that it is the author of the protocol who turns out to have been Mr. Ackroyd’s killer.

Once again, it is the Belgian refugee who solves the case. There seems to be death all around him. In such circumstances, one wonders why he does not return to Belgium, where life, for all its shortcomings (proximity to Germany being the main one in his case as that is why he became a displaced person in the first place) can hardly have been less risky than in the country houses of southern England.

The Report makes clear that the refugee who, under the thirty-year rule can now be identified as a M. Hercules Poirot, was in Britain quite legally, though it glosses over the position with his documents. We are not told if he was on a tourist, business or work visa and if so, how often he had to return to Belgium to get it renewed.

Even abroad, murder by genteel English people seems to follow M. Poirot around. One of the protocols records a case in Egypt where a honeymoon couple are on a Nile cruise and the husband shoots himself in the leg in order to disguise his shooting his newly-wed wife in the head so that he can inherit her immense fortune and run off with the woman he loves, who shoots two other people on board before finally, on the dockside, shooting both her lover and herself.

While the Belgian refugee is doing the police’s work abroad, in Mesopotamia or on the Orient Express, an elderly spinster called Jane Marples holds the fort back home. She lives quietly in an ordinary Home Counties village, where she spends most of her time gardening. Life there is what gave her a nose for crime, she says.

It all goes to show that the answer to crime in Moscow is to call upon the city’s stock of elderly spinsters and displaced persons. Surely everyone would vote for that.

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