Yakov Semenovich Stern
Created by Leo Gursky (pseudonym of Roman Arbitman)

YAKOV SEMENOVICH STERN is a book-loving Russian private eye with a knack for solving cases in the publishing world in a series of humourous novels by Russian author Leo Gursky. In one of his first cases, Stern is hired to locate a floppy disk with a strange manuscript, and in subsequent novels Gursky works for high ranking officials and even the Moscow mayor, but there always seems to be some bibliographical tie-in.

An ex-cop, Stern lives in a high-security apartment -- a necessity, given his many enemies who apparently try to assassinate him a few times a day, using everything from bombs to poison. Given the often comic aspects of the books (Stern is quite the bumbler) perhaps it's no surprise that Gursky has cited American author Donald Westlake's humorous novels (particularly The Hot Rock) as a major influence.

Leo Gursky (a pseudonym of Roman Arbitman, a well-respected Russian critic, reviewer and writer) first appeared in 1994 in the Ekaterinburg literary magazine Ural. Gursky had written humorously about his then work-in-progress, Yankee In Chief's Court. But the plot was described in such detail in the article that Gursky decided there was no need to actually write it -- rather, he decided to write two new books: To Kill a President and Change of Place. The novels were written quickly and at the beginning of the next year they were published.

Change of Place was the first novel to feature Yakov (Jacob) Stern. Danger (a standalone), Bet on Black (the second Stern novel) and others soon followed. They proved quite popular and went through several reprints and reissues.

In 1999, Change of Place was adapted for television and became a television series Dossie Detektiva Dubrovskogo, directed by Alexander Muratov, and starring popular Russian actor Nikolai Karachentsov as Stern, now known as Dubrovsky Roman Romanovich. The series ran for eighteen episodes.

Meanwhile, as Arbitman, he continued to write stories, political satire, essays and reviews, as well as establishing his persona as a controversial and polarizing figure in Russian letters, devoting much time to giving inflammatory statements and very public arguments (although when his collection of essays and reviews was ultimately published, it was under the Gursky pen name).

The third in the Stern series, Spear's Trajectory, eventually appeared in 2004 and the fourth -- and so far, final -- one, That's Ours, showed up in 2007, pairing Gursky's two most popular detectives, Stern and Inspektor Laptev.

I tried to get through Gursky's first Stern novel, but gave up after first hundred pages. I found the prose pretentious, the plotting slow, the jokes not funny and the whole setup ridiculous. As a critic Arbitman is outspoken; furious and sharp-minded, mostly writing negative reviews, but that's when he's writing under his own name. But when he's writing as Gursky -- well, I don't want to read that.


  • Change of Place (1994)
  • Bet on Black (1996)
  • Spear's Trajectory (2004)
  • That's Ours (2007)


    (translates as "Detective Dubrovsky Dossier")
    18 50-minute episodes
    Based on characters created byLeo Gursky
    Written by Vladimir Bragin
    Directed byAleksandr Muratov
    Starring Nikolai Karachentsov as DUBROVSKY ROMAN ROMANOVICH
    and Aleksandr Belyavskiy as
    The Head of FSB
    Also starring Olga Budina, Aleksey Buldakov, Mikhail Efremov, Vladimir Eryomin, Aleksandr Feklistov, Mikhail Filippov, Valeriy Garkalin, Andrey Ilin, Mamuka Kikaleishvili, Boris Klyuev, Evgeniya Kryukova, Irina Lindt, Nina Maslova, Vladimir Menshov, Vasiliy Mishchenko, Elena Proklova, Boris Shcherbakov, Sergei Shkalikov, Aleksandr Sirin, Vladimir Steklov, Mikhail Ulyanov, Anna Yanovskaya, Igor Yasulovich


Report respectfully submitted by Ray Garraty, the pseudonym of a Russian mystery reader and blogger. The name "Ray Garraty" was taken from a character in the Stephen King novel The Long Walk. Check out his English-language blog, Endless Falls Up.

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