THE RUSSIAN PASSENGER - Gunter Ohnemus
Bitter Lemon Press books are my not so secret passion. They have a list which just gets better and better with everything from the poignant, the extremely violent, confrontational and downright quirky. THE RUSSIAN PASSENGER is probably best put into the quirky basket, but don't let that give you any pre-conceptions about what to expect from the book.
It's a bit of a romp styling in some ways - Harry the ex-writer, now taxi-driver finds himself helping out one of his passengers. She's a rather attractive woman after all. But helping an ex-KGB agent and wife of a Russian Mafioso move a very very large amount of money out of the country is possibly not your average good deed done by your average taxi driver.
In amongst the scramble around Europe trying to avoid Sonia's husband and his henchmen there is a very poignant story told about Harry - his life hasn't been exactly straightforward, and the death of his little daughter and the teetering nature of his relationship with her mother haunts him on a daily basis. In fact most of life haunts Harry. Being chased by the Mafia almost gives him a point for being that perhaps he had lacked in the years since his daughter died; since he threw in life as a writer; since he took to the Buddhist road.
The great thing about THE RUSSIAN PASSENGER is that it's hugely entertaining. It's a great charging around romp, it's got confrontation and shooting, and corruption and a lot of close scrapes; it's got the pressures and difficulties of families and the nature of friendship. And it's got a tremendous character in Harry. Sonia is perhaps less clearly drawn out, her life is less discussed. Doesn't seem to matter so much, this is Harry's story.
‘At fifty the good Buddhist takes to the road, leaving all his belongings behind. His sole possession is a begging bowl. That’s fine. That’s how it should be. The problem was, there were four million dollars in my begging bowl and the mafia were after me. It was their money. They wanted it back, and they also wanted the girl, the woman who was with me: Sonia Kovalevskaya.’
So begins the story of Harry Willemer, a taxi driver and his passenger, an ex-KGB agent and wife of a Russian Mafioso. In an atmosphere of intense paranoia The Russian Passenger follows their flight from the hit-men sent to recover the cash.
This is a gripping multifaceted thriller, not only about murder and big money but also a powerful evocation of the cruel history that binds Russia and Germany.