RUSSIAN BOOK MARKET TURNS TO SEX, SPILLANE

RUSSIAN BOOK MARKET TURNS TO SEX, SPILLANE

In the land of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn, Mickey Spillane rules the book market.

Fed up with 70 years of politically correct novels, and with their own writers addled by the stunning changes lashing the former Soviet Union, readers are devouring detective and police thrillers known as "krimmies.""I could be a millionaire if I could get a couple of thousand of Mickey Spillane books," said Fyodor Sholokhov, 58, a book kiosk owner in Moscow's central Pushkin Square. "The people will pay any price for that."

Overall book sales are dropping in one of the world's most literate societies because of rising prices, paper shortages and perhaps the trend toward second jobs that bring in more money but leave less time for reading.

What remains of the market is thoroughly dominated by the krimmies, usually locally translated and printed versions of pre-1972 novels from the West that require no royalty payments to the authors.

What a change from communism. Then, much of the literature available was turgid, either government-approved novels about heroic Siberian villagers and factory workers, or underground "samizdat" tracts on the evils of the Soviet Union.

Publishers were permitted to translate into Russian only those Western novels that portrayed the West in decay, contained no sex or were widely recognized as classics such as Agatha Christie's prim detective novels.

Such translations usually started off with introductions written by politically reliable book critics. "Lest the reader understand the novel in his own 'unsafe' way," comments Sasha Livergant, who once translated James Joyce into Russian and is now chief editor of Start, a joint Russian-U.S. book publisher.

Today there are no government censors, no publishers' quotas for ''approved" authors, no restrictions at all on what can be printed except for pornography - though a few raunchy tabloids with grainy pictures that appear to have been photocopied from Playboy have begun hitting the book stands.

And yet, despite such tempting horizons, authors are in such a slump that Viktor Yerofeyev, whose novel "The Moscow Beauty" was translated into 17 languages, wrote an article for a literary review last month titled "In Memoriam: Soviet Literature."