Received from Mantle
After having survived the dangerous investigation in The Holy Thief, Captain Alexei Korolev is relieved to be investigating straight forward crimes again. He knows that if those in power ever find out the exact nature of his activities during the politically very sensitive earlier investigation, he will be deported at best. At the moment he finds himself decorated and hailed as a perfect Soviet citizen, but he knows that this perception can change at any moment and anybody’s whim.
When he hears a knock on his door in the middle of the night he is therefore prepared for the worst. It turns out though that he is not facing deportation but is needed for another very sensitive and politically dangerous investigation.
Maria Alexandovna Lenskaya, a young production assistant on a film set in the Ukraine, has been found dead in what may turn out to be a case of suicide. Since she was very close to a very important party member the exact cause of and reason for her death has to be determined in a very discreet investigation and with Korolev’s earlier success in mind the security service has decided that he is the man to execute this investigation.
Almost as soon as Korolev arrives on the scene he determines that the young woman’s death was unfortunately not a case of suicide and reluctantly and with fear in his heart he starts his murder investigation. It isn’t long before he finds himself facing multiple suspects, people with questionable pasts and lots of opposition.
Partnered with a young local police sergeant, Korolev has to dig his way through lies, secret identities and intrigue before he gets to the answers, always aware that solving the crime might just mean the end for him.
These are very good mysteries as well as historical novels.
William Ryan strikes just the right balance between a police procedural and the historical reality of oppression and political manipulations. The investigation and resolution of the crimes would have made this book a page-turner in and off themselves. It’s the added undercurrent of political menace resulting in a situation where nobody can be sure that their actions and words won’t be interpreted the wrong way, that raises this book to the level of full-blown thriller.
In Korolev the author has created a believable and likeable yet very human main character. The way in which he is constantly trying to balance the successful conclusion to his current investigation with the need to be discreet if he wants to stay alive and not put others connected to him into danger as well as the frustration this leads to at times, are very convincing.
I like the way in which certain other characters appear to be regulars in these stories. The uneasy relationship and collaboration between Korolev and Count Kolya, the leader of the Moscow Thieves, is inspired and I am delighted that it seems as if Slivka, the young police sergeant, will be returning in future books.
I hope this will be a long running series and that Mr. Ryan won’t keep me waiting too long before I can read the next Korolev mystery.