A Russian cyberthriller that has been a huge hit in Russia and now looks set to be an international cult novel.
26-year-old Vadim hates his job in the PR department of Latvia’s biggest bank. He spends his time playing his favourite shoot-em-up computer game, "Headcrusher," and composing insulting emails about his bosses. When his manager catches him writing one such email, Vadim is so overcome with rage that he kills him. Then he kills the bank’s security guard too, because he has seen him disposing of the body. Bumping people off comes to seem as easy as playing a computer game (or moving money between bank accounts) and Vadim embarks on a killing spree, putting paid to anyone who annoys him. But, as he becomes embroiled in the murky activities of the corrupt bank, which is laundering money for Mafia criminals, he starts to lose touch with reality. Where does truth end and fantasy begin – and is life just one big computer game?
This high-octane debut novel has the energy of a Tarantino film, the game-playing of The Matrix and the philosophical quirkiness of Fight Club. Nothing quite like it has come out of Russia before. It has been a major bestseller there and has been picked up by publishers around the world.
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Alexander Garros and Aleksei Evdokimov were born in 1975, and both work as journalists in Riga, Latvia. Friends since school, they decided to write a novel together. The result was Headcrusher, which won the prestigious Russian Literary National Bestseller Prize in 2003.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A New Year’s Greeting to the Management of REX Bank
Right then, you lot, everyone down.
1–2, 1–2, 1–2.
What’s with the panting, Citron? Too paunchy, you old git? Never mind, a hundred sit-ups in the snow should help shed the pounds. We don’t mess about round here.
Now, WALKING ON YOUR HANDS.
Oh dear, looks like Pylny’s snuffed it. Finally the old fart’s croaked for real. What a bummer. Never got to work him over properly. Quit on us, the lousy slob. Got off easy. Oh, he’s breathing is he? Fantastic! Put his balls in that vice. Let’s bring him round a bit. What’s he yelling for? Well yeah, I know it hurts! Stick something in his gob. That’s better. We’ve had enough fucking whinging from him.
What is it Four-Eyes? Broke your specs, did they? You poor bastard! Now, you chip off the old bourgeois block, used to sleeping, screwing and stuffing your belly . . . You won’t be screwing any more! You won’t have anything left to screw with! But why would you want to anyway, when you’ve only got three . . . no, make that two and a half minutes left to live? And that’s assuming I’m feeling KIND! Because otherwise it’ll take you TWO WEEKS to die. Yeah, and why not? That’s a fucking great idea. Right, chuck him in the basement . . .
Tired, you wankers? Lost any weight yet, Citron?
Don’t you go anywhere because this party’s just fucking getting started!
Right, give him a PASTING. Waste him!
Look at that, still alive. Breathing.
Right then, stand him upright. Well yeah, I know you can’t pissing well tell which end’s his legs and which end’s his head, because the fat bastard is absolutely spherical. Let’s find his head.
Waste him! That’s it! The bit he’s yelling with – that’s his head.
FINISH him! Excellent, excellent! That’s him done.
HAPPY HOLIDAY, DEAR BOSSES! HAPPY NEW YEAR!
And, by the way, where’s the champagne?
For about five seconds I gazed at the result of an hour’s professional effort with the same feeling of satisfaction that follows a fleeting and uncomplicated casual sexual encounter. Then I quickly exited from the file and automatically glanced over my shoulder.
In the course of a year, this conditional reflex had become firmly established.
Nimbly manoeuvring the cursor, I tore through the tangled hierarchies and their miscellaneous suffixes of dats, bmps, syses, exes, prvs, tmps, logs and pifs. Prodding ENTER, I emerged from the gullies of the WORDART administrative directory, moved the cursor left and up, clicked and surfaced from the directory TEMPT. Another upwards twitch, and I slipped out of HKGRAPH. Tumbled out of SYSTEM. Slid out of COPYCAT. Dodged out of WORDOUT. And finally broke out of LAYOUTT into the top level of the 2GHz Pentium PC’s hard drive.
A ten-metre-square press room, divided into a dozen transparent, functional cells by a simple labyrinth of glass and plastic. Background noise. The patient murmuring of inkjet printers. The gentle, efficient farting of processors. The obsessive gasping of photocopiers. The perplexed sobbing of faxes. The insistent jangling of phones. The rapid rattling of keyboards. Work in progress. Employees on the job. Business purposefully assuming visible form in words, arithmetical ideographs and sometimes – very rarely – hieroglyphs. Swarms of operational data scurrying through the local network. Official letters being assembled out of prefabricated blocks. The powerful mechanical organism of a big bank functioning efficiently.
Payments being made. Interest accruing. Money talking. Business meeting money.
Throughout the whole of the civilised world, this particular way of organising office space is regarded as the most progressive and efficient. On the one hand, your vulnerable, fragile privacy is considerately respected, in total compliance with the universal code of political correctness. Look, you have your own private, inviolable compartment. 1.5 square metres of personal space. But on the other hand, you always remain in full and open view of everybody else. The ideal of totalitarian democracy, rendered flesh by the genius of bureaucratic design: each and every employee subject to a constant cross-monitoring that is not autocratic and malign, but universal, reciprocal and mutually advantageous. Having as its goal to prevent you (imperfect and prone to malfunction as you are) from slipping out of synch with the perfectly-tuned metabolism of REX International Commercial Bank.
‘Vadim, where’s the budget document for quarterly advertising?’ asked the bright young PR talent Olezhek, leaning round from the next cell and agitatedly twitching the thin little moustache above his whimsical upper lip.
A glance at the moustache, the lip, the cream-coloured waistcoat and the sunset tones of the highly tasteful silk tie, convinced me yet again that the rumours concerning the young talent’s inclinations were absolutely true.
‘Vadim!’ A faint note of hysteria had appeared in his voice, ‘I want the document! I’ve got an efficiency of 59.6 here, and I distinctly remember it was 63.2!’
‘Try looking under x,’ I told him, after a pause. Then I turned away towards Murzilla.
This massive work of art was a bronze Tyrannosaurus Rex with an aggressively spiked crown, designed in a style of palaeontological realism by the sculptor Gochei Huskizadze, and the only entity in the office that I could look at without a feeling of loathing. Perhaps even with a certain degree of goodwill. He was all teeth and malice. More than once, groping around in the back pocket of my subconscious, I’d come across the thought that some day Murzilla’s six kilogrammes of bronze would cease their passive personification of power and prosperity, come to life and devour every last one of the bank’s damned employees. Me too, probably.
The door to the press room whispered a gentle warning as it opened to reveal in its aperture the nonchalant figure, evenly tinted by authentic tropical tan, elegantly attired by Hugo Boss, ergonomically harmonised by thrice-weekly workouts in the expensive gym of the World Class Sports Club: my boss, the head of the bank’s press service, Andrei Vladlenovich Voronin.
He scanned the premises with lazy irony through the smoked glass of his futuristically designed and stratospherically priced Yamamoto spectacles. Paused. Looked through his sites. Took aim. At me. Launched himself elegantly across the labyrinth.
I turned back to my keyboard, jerked the cursor across the screen, prodded enter and landed splat in the putrid little swamp of congrats.doc. Focusing intently, I ran my fingers over a couple of keys and my eyes over the few lines.
On the cold, frightening threshold of the new millennium one feels more keenly than ever the need for the warm, strong, dependable shoulder of a Family. You and I, dear colleagues, have been exceptionally fortunate. Because REX is a Family, and every Family, especially if it’s written with a capital letter, has its own . . .
Four-Eyes was already standing behind my shoulder. I didn’t turn round straight away. Instead I shook my head gravely, massaging the bridge of my nose in a gesture of noble fatigue, slumped against the oval back support of my chair . . . and only at that moment appeared to notice the boss.
‘Andrei Vladlenovich!’ I half-rose from my seat with the pious respect of the honest toiler. ‘I was just . . .’
Four-Eyes stared into the monitor with a derisive smirk that showed off the tips of his ultra-white incisors.
‘And every Family,’ he declaimed with feeling, precisely highlighting the capital letter with the climax of his intonation, ‘has its own freak.’
He sniggered. Slapped the honest toiler patronisingly on the shoulder. He was two years younger than me.
‘Attaboy, Vadik! Go for it. When Citron reads that, he’ll just lap it up. A fucking Family . . .’ he sniggered again, this time in a different tone. For Four-Eyes, this really was his family.
He swung round, grazing me invisibly with the ethereal wing of his environmentally friendly Kenzo perfume, and disappeared into his own office. A separate office. But – separated from the rest of the press room by the same kind of glass and plastic wall . . . But – a wall fretted by the fine horizontal ribbing of blinds . . . Democracy maintained. But seniority too.
Feeling almost flattered, I returned my gaze to the screen and my hands to the keyboard in brisk inspiration; shuffled my fingers in the vigorous gesture of a surgeon or a pianist. Stimulated by its standard one-shot hit of dutiful enthusiasm, my brain strained to formulate the missing ending of the unfinished phrase. Has . . . its own . . . But the praiseworthy impulse never reached my fingers. Before it could produce the intended result, the effect of the shot of undiluted conformity flipped over into loathsome, tacky withdrawal. The way they say a fix of heroin only lasts veteran junkies a couple of seconds. I gazed with increasing apathy at the three and a half sentences of the New Year’s greeting to our great chiefs and beloved leaders – commissioned by Four-Eyes from me as a former notable shark of the pen – understanding the meaning of what was written there less and less. The forefinger of the hand that had wilted on to the keyboard drove the cursor backwards and forwards along the four lines of text. Then I roused myself and, with renewed resolve, pressed alt x.
Picking up speed, I tore into LAYOUTT, squirmed into WORDOUT, slid into COPYCAT, ...
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