Kate Hennessey has arrived with colleagues in January, 1991 to take part in Leningrad’s Second International Documentary Festival. The USSR is in severe economic and political crisis. Crime is rampant, shelves are bare. Kate stumbles into an “illegal meeting” of women and audiotapes their descriptions of the harshness of their lives as well as their criticisms of current leaders. There, Sveta, age 17, confides to her that she is afraid she will be killed. Kate offers to help, and is swept up in a series of frightening events, beginning with Kate’s and Sveta’s abduction by Kolya, a drunken cab driver, to a cemetery on the outskirts of Leningrad. Kate is robbed of earrings her lover Gilly has given her, then left to die in the bitter cold. She makes it to a nearby inn, believing that Sveta also escaped.
Was the abduction random, part of the escalating crime wave? Was it meant for Sveta who feared for her life? Or was Kate herself the target?
She might be under scrutiny, Kate decides, because when she first arrived, she inadvertently videotaped an officer with a scarred face talking with a baby-faced civilian in a gray designer suit in the hotel bar. Since then a red-haired soldier—one of the many soldiers roaming the hotel—seems to be following her. Her guide book warns, No pictures allowed of the military.
Kate’s more worried about the fight that she and Gilly had just before she left the U.S., and she throws herself into gathering more footage, her “Messages from Leningrad” for her NYC course in guerrilla filmmaking.
As rumors circulate of an impending coup, Kate discovers that Sveta is missing and tapes a video interview of Sveta’s lover, 17-year-old Nadya, who has been beaten and raped by the police because she is rozovaya, pink, gay. Kate learns to her horror when she and Nadya visit the Kafé Dusha (Café Soul), a dairy bar where the “moonlight” women socialize, that Sveta may be incarcerated in a Psychiatric Clinic for the Cure (drugs and shock therapy). Or she may be dead.
After an invasion into her hotel room while she sleeps and a near miss by a speeding convoy truck at the Palace of Pavlovsk, Kate understands that she is not a victim of Leningrad’s rising crime wave but that there is a real plot to kill her as well as to confiscate her videotapes. An attack against her as she shops along the Nevsky Prospekt and a devastating fire in the wing of her hotel force her (her videos taped to her body) to flee Leningrad with the help of new Russian friends. She is pursued by the scar-faced KGB officer and the local police who have found Sveta’s frozen body in the cemetery pond.
Back home in her NYC apartment, Kate finds that the danger overseas has come straight to her doorstep, and that nothing is what it seems.
If you’re looking for a compelling book for discussion by your reading group The Matryoshka Murders has unforgettable characters. It is also a snapshot of Leningrad at that desperate time when Russians, having tasted freedom with Gorbachev’s introduction of glasnost and perestroika, hoped for more freedoms, as hard liners fought to take the country back to the cold war era. Today Russia is as murky and menacing as ever--and the KGB continues to remain in total control.
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As well as a successful author, Kay Williams is a professional actress who has played a wide range of leading roles at theaters around the U.S. For several years, Kay worked behind-the-scenes with an independent filmmaker in New York, traveling with him to Leningrad in 1991 where she received the idea for The Matryoshka Murders. Anything could happen here, she thought, in this city at this desperate time.
Eileen “Jo” Wyman, Kay’s writing partner, helped organize photos and notes collected from the trip, and together they drafted a plot and wrote this thriller that begins in Russia and jumps across an ocean to New York City.
Eileen, known to friends as Jo, an amazing, talented woman, tragically passed away in 2013, just after The Matryoshka Murders was completed. Jo worked in radio-TV and began her writing career in comedy, crafting jokes for speech writers and comedians, humorous fillers for magazines, and captions for cartoonists. She loved humor—from punch line jokes to surreal comedy to wit and word play—filling file box after file box with her wry, pithy descriptions.
The authors’ move into the crime-ridden, sleazy Hell’s Kitchen of 1977 provided the catalyst for their award-winning thriller, Butcher of Dreams. Kay’s wide ranging acting credits and theater experience gave focus to this character/plot driven mystery that centers around the struggling 42nd Street repertory theater where much of the action takes place.
Kay is also a co-author of the comic romance One Last Dance:It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love, started by her journalist father Mardo Williams, and finished by her and her sister Jerri Lawrence. One Last Dance has won several awards, including an Ohioana Award (to Jerri and Kay) for writing and editing excellence.
Coming next (dedicated to Jo) - Part One of a Series: New York City, Collected Letters, 1956-57: Were We Ever That Young?, the hilarious, heart-breaking and hair-raising adventures of two starry-eyed girls from the Midwest (Jo and Kay) who arrive in New York City with big dreams of success. Part Two of the Series will be San Francisco, Collected Letters, the Sixties.
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