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Vodka [Hardcover]

Boris Starling
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2004

Multi-stranded, groundbreaking Russian thriller from the bestselling author of Messiah and Storm

Moscow, December 1991. Chaos reigns after the fall of communism. Muscovites are used to queues and empty shelves, but now they have to cope with a dangerous power vacuum – and a war between brutal mafiya gangs for control of the city. So when a child's body is found beneath the ice of the Moscow river it attracts little attention to begin with. Then a second body is found. And a third.

At the heart of the gathering storm is Red October, Russia's most famous vodka distillery. Alice Liddell, an American banker, has come to Moscow to oversee its privatization – an unpopular move. Alice wants to get going, but faced with the charismatic, ruthless Lev – distiller director and head of one of the warring mifiya gangs – a very difficult job is starting to look impossible.

Lev's arch-enemy has vowed revenge on him and it seems that the bizarre child killings might be part of this. The last thing he needs is a determined young woman in the heart of his criminal empire. But will Lev and Alice be enemies or allies? And when the storm has passed, who will be left standing?

Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st edition (1 Mar 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007119453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007119455
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,589,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Boris Starling's third thriller Vodka continues the run of excellence that started with Messiah. For the last decades of Soviet communism, there existed a weird symbiosis between officialdom and organised crime; Vodka offers an inventive description of what happened in the early years of democracy when that antagonistic partnership broke down. Alice Liddell could not be more of an innocent--her very name tells us that she is out of her depth, in Wonderland--and she gets lumbered with the job of privatising Moscow's largest vodka factory. Struggling with her alcoholism in a society where hard drinking is universal, Alice is caught up in the gang warfare between the distillery's Mafia boss Lev and his Chechen rivals. Meanwhile, someone is stealing children from an orphanage Lev protects and the KGB man who acts as his deputy is playing sinister games of his own. Vodka offers an intelligent and well-informed take on Russian politics—-all the more so, paradoxically, for changing some of the details and names of what happened in real life. The relationship between Lev and Alice is genuinely touching—he is the hard man who discovers there is somebody he cares about, the woman for whom falling in love is a destructive ravishment. --Roz Kaveney


Praise for Vodka
‘Suspense is cumulative, with the narrative a kaleidoscope patterned by Starling’s love affair with all things Russian and Moscow in particular’ Chris Petit, Guardian

‘A pulsating and imaginative tale of murder and mafia’ Daily Mirror

Praise for Messiah
‘A real cliffhanger’ Sunday Express

‘Fast-paced, gritty… deserves nothing but praise’

Praise for Storm
‘A furious, compelling and enjoyable read’ Maxim

‘I’ve been pinned helplessly to every chilling page’ Loaded

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top work 24 Mar 2004
What a read. More a political thriller than the previous action/crime thrillers but still a massive page turner. If you enjoyed Messiah and Storm you will be pleased to see Starling turning in another winner, if not you are luckly as you have 2 more top works to get into after the Russian adventure. This is a mature and well thought through work from a master of information gathering and readability. Gorby signing over his nuclear clearence with a borrowed biro...! U just know its true but who would put it in a novel... Starling would!
Just read it and be gripped by this work of class
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2.0 out of 5 stars Great idea, poor story 10 Nov 2011
The idea behind the book is sound, a corruption riddled society with a fixation on alcohol.
Then one of the main brands of alcohol is to be sold an American lady ohhh noooo.

The story is a mess which is a shame.

The love plot is of a joke.
The fixation on Vodka becomes over-the-top very quickly with people seemingly consuming vodka by the bucketload and then moaning it's not pure enough.
There's plenty more silly stuff (which is meant to be serious) and I could go on but it's pure ridiculous and not funny or entertaining. Towards the end you just want it to finish.

Starling has written some very good books but this isn't one of them. Buy something else.
This is like a film starring Steven Segal and Goldie Hawn with Cindi Lauper performing the filmtrack , totally awful.
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2.0 out of 5 stars ambitious - 2 10 Dec 2008
Starling says in his preface that this book and it's subject was a 'labour of love', and that certainly comes accross.

So, where to start, the plot.........well, it's not for the faint hearted. Lets just say a knowledge of Russian politics, history, mafia and society would be useful, as would a love of vodka and no little interest in Russia's transformation into a capitalist marketplace - yes, it's complex, complicated and confusing.

Basically it involves the 'westernisation' of a Vodka distillery, some horrific child murders, some mafia gang wars and an unconvincing romantic subplot - it doesnt hang together to well - it feels like theres just too much going on, which adds to the overwhelming feeling of confusion - did the editor not have the nerve to stand up to Starling and tell him to cut some stuff?

It weighs in at over 600 pages and it's not an easy read, not only is the plot tough going but there is an extensive list of characters which is further complicated by Starlings insistence (correctly, it must be said) of using all 3 Russian names (given name, patronymic and family name) for each character throughout the book, yep this means that most of the characters are referred to by 3 different names depending on who they are talking to!

The book is undoubtedly well researched, and maybe if you can put as much love into it as Starling clearly has, it may be rewarding.

I would stick to Starling's other works and avoid this one.

Ambitious but ultimately a magnificent failure.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Too much going on 25 May 2008
I have to agree with many of the reviewers, this book is too big and tries to cover too much of a subject. A story set in post glasnost would be good, a killer loose in Moscow would be good, but not both together. I read it to the end, all 650 pages of it, but the leaps were too much at times. It was hard to get my head around the Russian names, which were thrown at you all the time, and the history, production and differences in vodka became tedious after a while. Apart from anything else, I don't drink ... The blurb on the back cover indicated a fast paced thriller. It isn't. It could have been. I like Boris Starling's work usually, this was a disappointment. Check the sales figures above, 112 second hand copies for sale, that says it all really. Sorry, Boris, try cutting the book length in half next time and pick one subject to concentrate on. It's always tempting to throw everything in, including empty vodka bottles, but it doesn't work. Less is more, especially in thriller writing.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A So-So Thriller 23 Dec 2007
Back in the 1980s, Martin Cruz Smith wrote Gorky Park. The promotional material presented it as a sneak peak at life (and detective fiction) behind the Iron Curtain. As a 13 year old this made an impression on me, even if much of it was bound to be hype, now that I look back on it.

This book was presented in much the same way. This time the book looks at Russia in the time after Gorbachev. The government wants to sell off state owned industries and attempts to see if privatization could work by piloting the process with a Vodka factory. American advisers are called in to help with the sell off. When they arrive, they walk into a gang war between Chechens and the Russian Mafia as both gangs attempt to gain control of the factory.

I want to say that this was a good book, but it was simply your average gang thriller, with people with Eastern European names leading the rival gangs.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vodka, Boris Starling 22 Jan 2005
By RachelWalker TOP 500 REVIEWER
Vodka is important in Russia. Very important. As a character puts it in one soliloquy: "It is our lifeblood; the defining symbol of Russian identity. It is our main entertainment, our main currency, our main scourge. Vodka effects every aspect of Russian is the great equaliser. If there's one thing which unites the President with the frozen drunk found dead on a street, it is Vodka... What's Vodka if not all things to all men? Every aspect of the human condition finds its reflection in Vodka, and its exaggeration, too. Russians drink from grief and from joy, to be warmed in the cold, and cooled in the heat, because we are tired and to get tired."
So, as with the Spice on Herbert's Dune, he who controls vodka controls Russia. This is why, in the immediate days after the fall of communism - which has left the economy in ruins, the rouble worthless and vodka as the only currency (people are healed with it; people are tortured with it; people's salaries are paid in it; peopled are bribed with it) - the largest distillery in the country, Red October, is selected as the vehicle to lead the push for privatisation. The quick success of the venture, the selling of such a national symbol, is hoped to convince the Russian people that western capitalism is the only way forward. To organise the privatisation, American banker Alice Liddell is brought in. However, despite her experience the task will not be easy. The Russian people - who "enchant with their arts and inspire with their courage, but have horror, tragedy and drunkenness spiralling through their genes" - are sceptical and thus resistant, and rival mafiya gangs are busy vying for control of the city, leeching off the power vacuum.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Vodka is a real thriller
Never having read any of Boris Starling's books before, this one was chosen at random after reading the brief synopsis.

Vodka is however a real thriller! Read more
Published on 29 Jun 2011 by Insomnia
5.0 out of 5 stars A truth all over the world
This book is in reality telling was what the west and its controlled associations are doing with all the third world countries and soviet related states from the late seventies. Read more
Published on 4 July 2007 by Diaa M. Fakhr
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting - a great historical novel come thriller
Maybe not everyone's cuppa but I really enjoyed Vodka. May help that I have been to Moscow and I enjoyed the historical context that provides the backdrop to this gripping... Read more
Published on 21 Aug 2006 by gingergiraffe
1.0 out of 5 stars Vodka, quick review
I found the book very hard to get into because the start is unfocused and it feels as if the author didn't know how to begin the book. Read more
Published on 10 April 2006
4.0 out of 5 stars One Helluva Tale!
Boris Starling's sprawling narrative is set in Moscow over a period of only four and one half months, yet the novel is epic in nature. Read more
Published on 8 April 2006 by Jana L. Perskie
1.0 out of 5 stars I recommend abstinence
Not worth writing a long review of such a disappointing mess of a book. Its massive length & sprawling plot are no doubt intended to reflect the size & complexity of... Read more
Published on 18 Feb 2006 by noeloh
1.0 out of 5 stars Really, really poor
I cant decide whether to explain in lenghthy technical detail why this book is so awful, or to give you all the shortened version - so lets settle for the latter. Read more
Published on 19 Jan 2006 by P. Roberts
2.0 out of 5 stars dilluted
I really had high hopes for this book, sadly I was disappointed. I agree with the comments here that this would have been better as two books. Read more
Published on 13 Oct 2005 by Simon Franklin
3.0 out of 5 stars Map may be needed
I enjoyed Storm but wasn't that impressed by Messiah although I enjoyed the televisation. I think in this book the author tried to squeeze in way too much. Read more
Published on 21 Feb 2005 by normngrey
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