Putin's dark inner circle

04 October 2016 - 09:58 By Andrew Donaldson

Not your average gumshoe A Cold Death by Antonio Manzini (Fourth Estate)MOST fictional detectives are incurable cynics with troubled personal lives. Manzini's deputy police chief Rocco Schiavone is no different. Exiled from his beloved Rome to dreary alpine Aosta, Schiavone hates his colleagues, his superiors, the provincial townsfolk. But he does like to start the day off with an espresso and a joint (it's a Mediterranean diet, you can't beat it) and he loves solving crimes - even if it means breaking the law. In this, the second in Manzini's hit series to appear in English, Schiavone tackles a murder disguised as suicide. Satisfyingly complex plot, with subtle humour.THE ISSUEThere's no shortage of books on the Russian president, but Mikhail Zygar's All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (Perseus) is among the most compelling. Where other journalists and their sources who've tried to disclose the darker secrets of Putin's inner circle have ended up dead or in jail, Zygar, the founder and editor-in-chief of Dozhd, the only Russian independent news TV channel, appears to have earned the confidence of many government insiders.In addition to the labyrinthine machinations of the Kremlin, the book traces the evolution of Putin-think at a time when Russia, as Zygar puts it, "was clumsily learning how to be a rich country". And it wasn't just the oligarchs - the civil service quadrupled in number, a ready cash cow. "There was scarcely any politics, no public life, just solid hedonism."Moreover, Zygar charts Putin's growing displeasure with Western leaders. He details, for example, how a furious Putin had cut short his visit to the November 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane where he felt he had been humiliated for his support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's methods of dealing with internal dissent.When leaders gathered for the summit's traditional photo-op, Putin was placed, not in the centre of the group, along with China's Xi Jinping and US president Barack Obama, but out on the edge - cold-shouldered, as it were - next to Jacob Zuma. Such is the international role of our president.CRASH COURSEI wonder if I'm alone in thinking that the Q&A session at tomorrow evening's launch, in Johannesburg, of Johann van Loggerenberg and Adrian Lackay's Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS's Elite Crime-Busting Unit (Jonathan Ball) should be televised live. This is probably 2016's most important non-fiction title, a damning response to the Sunday Times reports that Van Loggerenberg and his colleagues had, among other things, illegally spied on Zuma, run a brothel, illegally bought spyware and entered into unlawful tax settlements. Now, it seems, it had all been cooked up by others who wanted to capture the revenue service for their own purposes. Those wishing to attend the launch at Constitutional Hill should contact Charlene Davids at charlene.davids@jonathanball.co.za, 021-469-8942. Space is limited.THE BOTTOM LINE"Without exception, he always spoke of his mother with profound love." - Hitler: Ascent by Volker Ullrich (Knopf)

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