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on 11 January 2006
I don't generally read bestseller popular fiction but have been very impressed with this book and his other, first novel, Fatherland. It's not just that he tells a cracking tale but he has some interesting ideas and the quality of his writing is good, not too pulpy.
Harris paints a compelling portrait of modern Russia, particularly Moscow but at the same time introduces some fascinating theories and ideas about the political direction Russia is taking and the burden of the past it drags behind it. The result is that you are simultaneously gripped by an exciting piece of fiction but also slightly horrified at how true to life much of this could be.
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on 3 June 2005
I really enjoyed Archangel. Having previously studied Communist Russia, I recognised many of the political figures featured in the book, but am now looking forward to reading even more about the subject.
That said, you don't need any knowledge of the subject to enjoy this book (though concentrating on the many Russian names is vital!). As with Harris' other excellent thriller Fatherland, I found myself instantly empathising with the characters of Archangel, namely 'maverick' academic Fluke Kelso (in Moscow to attend a conference about the newly opened Soviet archives), and desperately willed him on in his quest to find out whether Stalin's secret notebook does indeed exist.
However, Harris cleverly shows the many sides to the effects of Kelso's investigations, and also draws a sympathetic picture of the long-suffering Russian police chief Suvorin, who too suspects there are many secrets buried in Russia's history but knows unearthing them may have a much greater impact than that of a 'scoop'.
As the plot moved on I was compelled to rush through the always evocative descriptions of 'New Russia' to get to its conclusion. Archangel is exciting, fast-paced, eerie as well as sad. A fantastic book.
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on 4 March 2007
I really enjoyed Archangel, Fluke Kelso proves a believeable flawed main protagonist. Nice not to have a swashbuckling, gun toting bodybuilder at the centre of the story.

The main plot is handled extremely well, and really makes the reader buy into the plausibility of what unfolds.
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on 22 February 2006
Fluke Kelso is in Moscow to attend a conference on the recently opened Soviet archives. He is a Oxford historian and Mr Harris's novel tells the story of four days in Kelso's life which starts one night when a former NKVD officer visits him in his hotel room. He claims to have been the bodyguard of Lavrenty Beria who was at the time the chief of the secret police just before Stalin's death. According to him, he witnessed Stalin's death when he had his fatal stroke and he also saw Beria steal his papers among which was a black notebook.
The following day, Kelso decides to verify the man's story at the Lenin Library. At this point he doesn't know that his enquiry is the beginning of a breathless chase from Moscow to the port of Archangel located on the White Sea in order to unveil Stalin's last secret which has been hidden for nearly fifty years.
Good suspense, plenty of action and an interesting historical background are qualities in this novel which place Robert Harris at the same level as writers like John Buchan, John LeCarré and Len Deighton.
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on 12 January 2000
I've been reading thrillers for more than thirty years and not since 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold' have I come across an adventure story as good as this. Archangel doesn't just catch the moment but transcends into art. If you think that's just hyberbole - read the book yourself. I've travelled a lot recently in Russia and Harris captures the mood there perfectly and by focusing so clearly on Stalin he raises one of the most difficult and important questions of the century - how do we judge evil? I disagree utterly with the reviewers who say the book somehow loses pace as it goes on - I think the reverse. The denoument at the end is as shattering as the famous reveal at the end of 'The Spy who Came in From the Cold'. More than that its prescient. No one who reads this book will ever watch on the TV screens the news from Russia in quite the same way again. Proof that the thriller is art - read it for yourself and see.
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Archangel tells the story of a historian called Fluke Kelso who is told of the existence of a secret notebook belonging to Josef Stalin, and then in true Indiana Jones style becomes determined to find the evidence. Led into the frozen forests of Russia, the narrative provides Kelso with something more shocking than even he imagined. Having read the other reviews, I wouldn’t agree that the end of the book was all that weak but certainly agree it’s a well-paced and has a fair few twists to keep the reader enthralled.
Robert Harris has also written Enigma (recently made into a blockbuster film) and Fatherland (a fantastic alternative history about a murder investigation in post-war Germany, where the war was won by Germany). All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book – an original idea written really well. Probably not the best book Harris has written in my view (hint: read Fatherland), but definitely worth reading.
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on 31 March 2010
Archangel finds Robert Harris on the rock solid territory he has all but made his own. A blend of History and Fiction, real life characters mingling with Harris's archetypes. The role call of historical figures include Joseph Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria, true ogres of Russia's recent past. Against these collide the kind of stock characters readers of Harris's previous works will be familiar with. Our hero is Christopher `Fluke' Kelso, a scruffy, embittered but charismatic historian. O'Brian; a careless journalist so focused on the present he's lost sight of the past. Rapava; a relic, a survivor of Russia's brutal past, living history, incompatible with the New, and his daughter Zinaida; Part-time whore, part-time law student. Product of the market forces which now dominate. These characters are all fine to spend time with but a cracking plot and rock solid historical research are Harris's calling, and we have both here in spades.

We begin with one foot in the past, the grizzled Rapava recounting the night of the GenSec's fatal heart attack, Kelso struggling to keep up with the old man's alcohol intake as the well documented details of Stalin's demise unfold. Some classic Harris tweaking introduces us to the stories MacGuffin; Stalin's lost notebook, buried by Biera on that fateful night. Once this structure has been established i.e. Historical document discovered. Everyone want historical document. Go find historical document. The author uses it to cast his keen eye on the history and politics of possibly (with the exception of China) the most secretive, intriguing and dangerous society in our world. This, in my opinion, is where the book really shines. The descriptions of Russia in the Mid-Nineties are thick with atmosphere; once proud soviet buildings, now decayed and crumbling, forced to wear the neon badges of capitalism. A country where literally everything is for sale. A country which doesn't know democracy from a hole in the ground. Peppered throughout the first half of the book are segments of a lecture Kelso has delivered, this serves to give us an insight into the twisted mind of a man who some say is responsible for the deaths of a third of the population of Russia; some 150 million at the time (this figure doesn't including the 30 million who died in the 2nd world war). Truly chilling stuff; delivered with panache. The revelation that Stalin liked his top generals to dance for him to a soundtrack of howling wolves; that he forced them to keep dancing late into the night, passed exhaustion, terrified of his volatile whims and temper and in the full knowledge that they were likely to be forced to do the same the next day, has stayed with me. As has the grim fates he subjected on his family or anyone who ever got close to him.

Learning about history in a narrative context of can be great fun (OK possibly the geekiest line I've ever written right there!) But this is not Imperium or Lustrum, Archangel's day job is the thriller and it's here that the book is merely solid, never quite scaling the heights of Fatherland. It's still gripping stuff but I never had the sense that our hero was ever in any real danger; the greatest threat posed by the Ghosts of Russia's past rather than anything in its present. The Police painted as modern and forward thinking, desperate to present a decent facade to a world looking on. Hardly the KGB of old. Harris cleverly sculpts the his political and historical points to give the climax greater weight but the ending was underwhelming compared to what we have come to expect from the author.

Overall then a book I enjoyed reading immensely, it's good but it's not the authors best.
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on 23 July 2006
This book is particularly good because the main character is not the average hero. In fact Fluke Kelso is more of an anti hero which is a nice change to other American 'goody two shoes' Robert Langdon. Harris writes with a style that far surpasses many 'Thriller' writers I have read before ie. Dick Francis, Dan Brown, Robert goddard ,Andy McNab. As to the plot it just twists and turns with intresting surprises.
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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2007
This was the second noel by Robert Harris that I read and found it a far more accomplished read than Fatherland as it seemed to flow much easier and had a grittier, more realistic feel to it. Harris has a talent for making the seemingly mundane suddenly very sinister and so it goes for (the appallingly named) Fluke Kelso as he digs himself deeper and deeper into a very dark hole.

Harris's research into Stalin's character and how he tormented his cronies is very impressive and made the sequences about The Boss compulsive reading. The race against time element is adequately done, but the denouement was, for me, a bit of a disappointment and I could see it coming a mile off. Worth a read though and far better than a lot of other thrillers that sell more copies.
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on 26 September 1999
I loved Enigma and as soon as my husband had finished reading Archangel I snatched it off him. The descriptions of winter Moscow are really evocative - you can taste the grit and really 'feel' a country living on the edge of economic disintegration. The characters are well drawn and interesting too. Once Kelso and O'Brian reach the Archangel forests, however, the plot becomes ludicrous. I found myself pulling a face, looking at my husband and saying "I cannot believe this." He agreed with me that it was utterly improbable and totally marred what had until then been a fascinating story. It's a shame because I love Harris's style of writing. It seems that in Archangel, to quote a modern cliche, he's lost the plot!
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