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The Holy Thief (The Korolev Series) [Paperback]

William Ryan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Mar 2011 The Korolev Series (Book 1)

Moscow, 1936 and Stalin's Great Terror is beginning. In a deconsecrated Church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see.

Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD - the most feared organisation in Russia - becomes involved.

As more bodies are discovered and the pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust; and who, in this Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevails, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life . . .

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pan (4 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330508407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330508407
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 31,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'It is rare to meet a genuinely exciting new voice in crime fiction... Ryan writes with narrative drive and urgency, real sense of place, and a central character who is conflicted, moral, and above all likeable. Any one of these things is a rarity; the combination is whodunit heaven' --Times Literary Supplement

'It's a tough, suspenseful premise for a debut, contrasting claustrophobic atmosphere with personal optimism in a way that can only intensify as the series continues' --Financial Times

'Ryan's first detective novel confidently re-creates a paranoid society where mutual suspicion is the norm... The Holy Thief is an absorbing and assured debut' --Sunday Times

'A subtle, superb mystery, a wonderful central character and with a sense of place and period to rival even the greatest of the Russian masters. More please!' --Kate Mosse

'Without doubt, The Holy Thief is one of the best historical mysteries I've read in the last ten years. William Ryan brilliantly captures the eerie paranoia of Stalinist Moscow, which serves as an endlessly fascinating background for his compelling tale. This is a non-stop page-turner and a remarkable debut'
--Paul Sussman, author of The Last Secret Of The Temple and The Hidden Oasis

'A first novel written with all the narrative assurance of someone who'd been perfecting his art for years. A thriller set amid the paranoia of 1930s Moscow, it was persuasive in all its local and historical details, told its tense story with style and aplomb and had an engagingly troubled hero' --Books of the year, Irish Independent

'Remarkable thriller . . . In his solitude and resolve, Ryan's Korolev evokes Martin Cruz Smith's fierce Arkady Renko, while the period detail and gore call to mind Tom Rob Smith' --Library Journal

'Ryan's novel has an authority that belies his first-novel status... Ryan demonstrates considerable skill in evoking this benighted period, along with a deftness at ringing the changes on familiar crime plotting moves. The auguries for a series, of which The Holy Thief is the first book, are very promising indeed --Barry Forshaw, Daily Express

'Set in 1936, Ryan's impressive debut introduces Capt. Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia's Criminal Investigation Division, who looks into the murder of a young woman found butchered in a church... Ryan, who merits comparison to Tom Rob Smith, makes palpable the perpetual state of fear of being reported as disloyal, besides dramatizing the difficulty of being an honest cop in a repressive police state. Readers will hope Korolev has a long career ahead of him' --Publishers Weekly

'This debut is a powerful tale set in 1930s Russia ... it's atmospheric, beautifully written and meticulously researched' --Irish Examiner

'Fans of Phillip Kerr, Tom Rob Smith, and Olen Steinhauer have a treat in store with this strong period thriller from British debut author Ryan . . .A series to watch very closely' --Irish Examiner

'Ryan's stately style belies the page-turning quality of the novel' --Irish Times

About the Author

William Ryan was called to the English bar after university in Dublin, then worked as a lawyer in the City. His novels THE HOLY THIEF, THE BLOODY MEADOW and THE TWELFTH DEPARTMENT set in 1930s Stalinist Russia, have been shortlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award, the CWA New Blood Dagger, the Irish Fiction Award and twice for the Ireland AM Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award. William is married and lives in West London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good 8 July 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Just finished this. Gripping is the word. The setting in pre war Russia is fascinating and adds to the general story line. I'm very critical of so called "Crime" books and often find them poorly written or full of irrelevant side stories.
Not the case here. The author manages to keep to the main story line with nice insights of the Stalin years that kept me engrossed to the end.
The copy I've read is the uncut version. Lets hope that the publishers don't cut anything when it's finally published.
Very good - well worth a read.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
By David J. Kelly VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A mysterious and gruesome murder in a public place is investigated by a divorced detective from the Militia and it involves a rich American businessman in dealings with the NKVD (later the KGB) to sell off Russian treasures. Could we be talking about Gorky Park? No this is the Holy Thief by William Ryan and despite these apparent similarity of plot lines it is an original novel. Set just as the terror of Stalin's purges is starting this shows a more austere, optimistic Soviet era when the 1917 revolution is still a living memory. The main character Captain Korolev is an old Imperial Russian and Red Army soldier who is now a detective in the People's Militia in Moscow. He is assigned the investigation of a dead young woman found in a old church, she has been tortured and killed.

His investigation is of interest to the NKVD and Korolev has to tread with care, always thinking about the political side and the potentially fatal consequences of any mistake he makes, Then more bodies start turning up and the book takes us into the subcultures of early Soviet Moscow - thieves, writers, Spartak Moscow football club and Komsomol Activists all connected by the murders. As another reviewer said some idea of Soviet history is probably essential to follow the plot and real historical characters turn up. The hardship and austerity of 1930s Russia is evoked, overlain with the political terrors of the Stalinist purges.

This book introduces a new fictional detective in Korolev who has a different enough milieau and an unusual back story to make this the precursor to a good series of books. I enjoyed it enough to kepp an eye out for any sequels.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's the start of Stalin's Great Terror, and Moscow is caught in a web of fear as citizens inform on their neighbours for not following Party ideals. When a young woman in tortured to death, her body left on the altar of a church, Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev is ordered to hunt down her killer. But the further he delves into the troubling case, the more the evidence points to someone within the NKVD - the most feared organisation in Russia.

I don't know a lot about Russian history, and I found this novel to be very atmospheric and interesting, informative without being too academic. The sense that at any time an individual could be accused of being an enemy to the people and sent to prison is palpable. Korolev is a good Communist citizen, but not a Party member, and his struggle to reconcile his beliefs with the new national ideals is well portrayed. He was formerly a religious man, before religion became a disease and churches were assigned new purposes.

The killings are brutal, but not described in bloody detail, and they become part of the background as the story takes on a political edge. This is a slow burn novel, rather than a page turner, but there are twists within the plot. I sometimes found it hard to keep track of some of the characters, and got names a bit confused, but that's only a minor issue. Korolev is a great character, and I'd like to read more books with him as the central character.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very assured debut 7 May 2012
By Rob Kitchin TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I thoroughly enjoyed The Holy Thief, which is a very assured debut novel. It skillfully weaves together a police procedural with the understated elements of a spy thriller a la Le Carre. The characterization is well developed and Korolev is sympathetically portrayed with an interesting back story and enough depth to sustain a series. Where the book excels is in the contextual framing of politics and social relations of Stalin's Russia - the cliques and factions, the collectivization, the role of the state, the division of power and resources, the social conditions and the everyday drudge of making ends meet - and in the strong sense of place and claustrophobic atmosphere. The plot is carefully constructed and well paced, with sufficient twists and turns and tension points.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive debut. 21 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this to be an assured and gripping first novel, though the debt to "Gorky Park" seems obvious. Korolev is an original, and for the most part an engaging, central character, but it is the world of pre-war Stalinist Russia that gives the book its power. The fear and suffocating secrecy, the betrayal and the impossibility of trust, that characterises Moscow and the Soviet Union at this time are convincingly evoked through concrete particularities and woven into the twists and turns of a skilfully worked plot. There can be no doubt that the sickening brutality and horrific violence that feature a great deal was indeed a feature of that repressive regime. Whether that justifies the dwelling in graphic detail on the niceties (sic!) of torture is another question. I fear this may be driven at least as much by sales figures and a jaded readership as by authenticity. Nonetheless, Ryan can write and promises to establish himself in this genre.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but soon forgotten
A lot went into the research of early Stalinist Russia but the plot labored and relied on 'cor-blimey yuk' violence. Characters came and went. Where? I dunno. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Nobby
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good
Published 5 days ago by Dariusz
1.0 out of 5 stars I don't normally do reviews but this was one of ...
I don't normally do reviews but this was one of the dullest books I have ever read. I managed to get 4/5 through it but cannot bear to read any more. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Miss Claire McDougall
4.0 out of 5 stars A good story.
Was slow to start and the name were difficult to pronounce and remember but that probably say more about me than the book. Read more
Published 2 months ago by fra
4.0 out of 5 stars For fans of Inspector Pekkala
Very similar to the Inspector Pekkala novels, set during the same time period of late 1930s Russia, good mystery novel
Published 2 months ago by davebp38
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
This book arrived immediately on the download.
If you like 'Tom Rob Smith' books, you'll like this.
Lots intrigue- could do with more. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Shazzer
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful atmospheric thriller !!!!
I came across this book whllst browsing through Kindle books, I decided to buy it simply because I had read the previous reviews
which were in the main very positive, I have... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Garth
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
Having read other William Ryan books, I looked forward to my second 'Korolev' story. it is well written and reflects the fear and corruption endemic in the USSR.
Published 5 months ago by Andy Sherratt
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Cruz-Smith - yet
Just been introduced to this new Irish crime writer in a n/paper review and as I liked M. Cruz-Smit's take on (modern) Russia, I thought I'd support my homie. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Sgt John
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent thriller
The paranoia of 1930s Russia is nicely evoked in this incident-packed page-turner. Believable characters, a great setting and a twisty plot.
Published 6 months ago by Andy Emery
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