AUTHOR: WILLIAM RYAN
Details: no. 1 Alexei Korolev Historical Mystery
Own; Copy received from author
Alexei Korolev is a criminal investigator with Moscow’s Militia in 1936. When he is told to investigate the murder of a young woman who was found, horribly mutilated, in a disused church he has no idea how much trouble he is going to end up finding himself in.
Although this is a criminal investigation, a political investigator from the NKVD takes an active interest in the case and the investigation, demanding daily updates from Korolev and providing titbits of information when he feels like it.
When it turns out the woman was American, the case gets a whole lot trickier. And then another body is found, mutilated in a similar way but this time the victim is a member of the Thieves, the rulers of Moscow’s underworld. Now the case is not only a political minefield but also highly confusing. What could possibly be the connection between the American woman and the seasoned criminal?
Korolev and his young partner Semionov slowly gather clues and try to make sense of them while around them political power-games are played out and one false move on their part could send them into exile or an even worse end.
This was a very good mystery. Korolev is a plausible main character. He is likeable, but not too good. He really wants to be a loyal communist and believe in the system, although he’s not blind to its faults and has some feelings which don’t quite fit the new doctrine.
A credible picture is painted of the fear and uncertainty that ruled everybody’s lives in those days, although it doesn’t make this a depressing read.
The mystery itself is well plotted and credible. The story provides tension as well as lighter moments in exactly the right balance and the pace of the story makes this a book that is very hard to put down.
I haven’t read any other reviews for this book, but without a doubt comparisons will have been made to Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy. And to some extend those comparisons would be right. However, I prefer this story over the ones by Smith.
While Smith’s books felt more like political stories build around a man who happened to be an investigator, this is first and foremost a mystery, despite its setting. Underneath it all, the book is about a police detective trying to solve horrendous murders as best he can despite the circumstances he has to investigate under and the political minefield he finds himself in.
And although the politics of the time and the ways in which they determine what people can say, do and even think are always present, the mystery remains the main focus of the story. And that for me made this book a fascinating and riveting read.
I’m going to have to get my hands on the next Korolev mystery, The Bloody Meadow, real soon. This is a mystery series I will be following faithfully from now on.