The Kalinka Affair: A Father’s Hunt for His Daughter’s Killer, by Joshua Hammer, published by The Atavist for Kindle, iPad, Nook, Google Play, and Kobo.
Reviewed by Deborah Blum
Call it an identity crisis of sorts. But for a career science writer, I’ve found myself spending an unusual amount of time in the past few years writing – and devotedly reading – true crime stories.
Call it also a logical consequence. I wrote a book about poison, murder and the early days of forensic toxicology. I write a blog about culture and chemistry, one that leads me inevitably into stories of lethal cocktails and homicidal intent. When I see a tale of murder and mystery, I usually wonder if there was a toxic weapon involved.
I realize that telling you this may make me sound a little creepy and it’s not – promise – that I spend my days lurking around hoping for a homicide. But I do look for stories that allow me to practice what I occasionally think of as subversive chemistry writing, narratives in which I can weave some toxicology, sneak a few chemical formulas or Periodic Table references into the tale.
There’s more at play here, though, than my interest in narrative story telling techniques. Forensic toxicology raises some fascinating questions about the role of scientific detective work. Can good chemistry always solve a murder? Even if we find a poison in a body, does that always lead us to the killer? And even if we know the killer, does that always lead us to justice?
Which brings me, of course, to The Atavist’s recent successful true crime single, The Kalinka Affair. The story is written by Joshua Hammer, a former foreign bureau chief for Newsweek, and a man with a long-time fascination with murder himself. His full-length books include Murder in Yosemite (the story of a 1999 mass murder in the national park), Sherlock Holmes’ London, and Where Agatha Christie Dreamed Up Murder.
You’ve probably guessed by now that The Kalinka Affair involves poison and murder. That’s my focus more than the author’s – this is foremost a story of a father’s full-fanatic drive to find justice in the matter of his daughter’s death. That passionate, guilt-and-love driven parental determination drives the narrative forward through almost 30 years of twists and turns, international politics and criminal undertakings, and unforgiving rage. “Bamberski would leave his job, burn through much of his life savings, and devote thousands of hours to pursuing his quarry,” Hammer writes.