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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good
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...
Published on 8 July 2010 by Wilz

versus
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some familiar elements but a new detective appears on the scene
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...
Published on 10 May 2010 by David J. Kelly


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 8 July 2010
By 
Wilz "wilson9hb" (Bristol, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Holy Thief (Hardcover)
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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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very assured debut, 7 May 2012
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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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some familiar elements but a new detective appears on the scene, 10 May 2010
By 
David J. Kelly (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Holy Thief (Hardcover)
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow burn historical detective story with a political edge, 25 Sept. 2010
By 
AR (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Holy Thief (Hardcover)
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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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric mystery., 25 Feb. 2012
By 
Paul D Brazill (Bydgoszcz, Poland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Holy Thief (Hardcover)
The Holy Thief is set in Moscow in 1936, at the start of Stalin's deconstruction of the city. Korolev, the star detective in the Moscow Militia's Criminal Investigation Division, is sent to investigate the unusual and brutal murder of a woman whose body is found in a desecrated church.

And, of course, this is a far from simple case, especially as it is carried out in the chilly shadow of the NKVD's Colonel Gregorin, who believes that the case may well have political implications.

Korolev is a good man trying his best to complete his investigation whilst dealing with corruption, paranoia and the tangible fear of the times. A world that Ryan evokes very well indeed.

The rich atmosphere of The Holy Thief is, in fact, one of its strong points and the book's historical details all help move the story forward rather than bogging it down, as is common in some historical crime novels.

The Holy Thief, Ryan's debut novel, is a deftly paced and constantly involving mystery with an interesting cast of characters and an immensely likable hero. It is a cracking good story, very well told and it confidently kicks off a deservedly successful series.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive debut., 21 Feb. 2013
By 
Bluecashmere. (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid, 25 April 2012
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.. a priceless treat. Only a very brave writer would create a whodunnit in 1930's Moscow and I have been able to verify much of the details with my Muscovite wife. A wonderful story by a master... favourite quote: "The Goose is no comrade to the Pig." Buy read enjoy ...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Holy Thief by William Ryan, 15 Feb. 2013
By 
Carroty Nell "Nell" (Alaska, USA (summer) Manchester, England (winter)) - See all my reviews
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Stalin's Moscow in the 1930s: a woman is found dead and horribly tortured in a former Orthodox church building. Captain Alexei Korolev of the City Militia is called to investigate. What is the connection with a legendary pre-Revolution and reputedly miraculous religious icon which went missing? And why is a General in the NKVD, Stalin's State Police, interested in the case?

'The Holy Thief' by William Ryan is a well-crafted book. The sense of time and place is superbly evoked; the reader can feel the cold, see the shabbiness and feel the fear. Ryan brilliantly captures the paranoia pervading all of Soviet society at this dark period in its history. Ryan also presents the protagonist well: Korolev comes across as a likeable character with depth whom the reader wants to learn more about.

There are elements of crime fiction, spy thriller and historical fiction in this enjoyable read. I felt, though, the pace was quite plodding for a thriller and the plot sometimes hard to follow. To sum up, it is a competent though not outstanding novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's murder on the rue de Stalin!, 16 Mar. 2012
By 
Billy J. Hobbs "Bill Hobbs" (Tyler, TX USA) - See all my reviews
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For true fans of the mystery genre, there seems to be no end for good settings, good detectives/policepeople, and good story lines. William Ryan's debut novel, "The Holy Thief" steps right into the mix, steals your attention, and races away with your energy and interest. It's a good, solid read, set in, of all places, 1936 Moscow, smack dab in the middle of the Stalin Era and the terrorism of that regime that is just beginning, for Bad and Even More Bad. Ryan's work features Capt. Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia's Criminal Investigation Division, a man we like, we trust, and we pity--all at the same time. As any student of history should be able to tell, the Stalin Era simply was about as evil as a regime could be. So what's a good man like Korolev doing here?

The body of a young woman is found, murdered, in a church. Grisly and horrific as it is, Ryan doesn't miss a step in his taut--and at times cleverly written--story. It turns out that the woman is an American nun--and the ramifications begin to balloon, certainly into wild proportions. Then another murder. Korolev goes Sherlock on us in his methods (he certainly has the brains for it)--he has his own Baker Street type Irregularskis--and yet manages to keep the narrative fully under control. To say that the book is filled with a lot of historical political intrigue is an understatement, but, again, the readers know this picture, at least, to the extent that they can appreciate his efforts (and applaud them, while knowing that all this probably will be fruitless, in the end).

What is fascinating about this book, though, is the landscape and atmosphere that Ryan manages to portray of Moscow--and of the Soviet "frontier." He's able to weave the various elements of that young Soviet machine--certainly baring many of its shortcomings and tragedies--and be convincing in his detail at the same time. Ryan's first book is a good one, although my favorite Russian policeman is Stuart Kaminsky's Porfiry Rostnikov ("Death of a Dissident" is the first in that series), set at the end of the Soviet era.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'These days it seemed everything in Moscow became dirty after a little while.', 17 Feb. 2012
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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It is 1936, and the setting is Moscow, nineteen years after the Revolution, and at the start of Stalin's Great Terror. The body of a woman, tortured and killed, is found in a church, and Captain Alexei Koralev of the Moscow Militia's Criminal Investigation Division is tasked with looking into the case. Although they are treating the murder as a criminal investigation, Korolev is asked to report details of it to Staff Colonel Gregorin, a member of the NKVD, the feared state security service, who dealt with political crimes. An interesting and mixed team of colleagues are introduced to us at the Militia's Petrovka Street headquarters, and Korolev is given junior lieutenant Semionov to assist him with this investigation. Semionov has only been with the team a couple of months and has an enthusiasm that Korolev is encouraged by, even if he has to temper it a little at times.

The main narrative concentrates on Korolev's investigation, but there are a few short sinister episodes with the murderer, which are dotted within the story. The crimes relate to a valuable stolen Russian icon. The tense, nervous atmosphere of the times, and the overriding feeling of fear and suspicion amongst the population of the country at that time is captured here, where 'even the innocent were jumping at shadows these days.'

Korolev is in his early forties, divorced, and good at heart. He genuinely believes in the Party line and their intentions for the future, but he also still quietly maintains his own religious beliefs. Shortly after he is first introduced, he visits his immediate boss, General Popov, to wrap up the previous case he'd been working on, and we learn more about his achievements and his character through the praise he receives:

'You did a good job here. An excellent job. Not the first time, of course. I give you all the hard cases, the crimes that look like they've been committed by ghosts, and yet you always find the devils and bring them to me. The highest conviction rate in the division and you don't even beat the confessions out of them.'

He is intelligent, methodical and thorough, and he is determined to find the real perpetrators, unlike one of his colleagues who 'argued that, even if they weren't guilty of the crime in question, the people he convicted were certainly guilty of something.' However, Korolev isn't soft and nor is he naive; he knows that when he is told to only report certain aspects of an incident to certain people, and no one else, that's what he has to do. There are events he is part of that can't be reported on, or he is told afterwards that they 'never happened'. During his investigations, 'he plowed his way through the grimy reality of Soviet life'. He encounters a whole range of characters from Moscow's underworld, from street children whose parents are likely to have permanently 'disappeared', to the Thieves - the criminals who dominate the underworld. He meets an American who has dealings with the NKVD, handling religious artifacts that are sold overseas, and he has to tread a fine line between uncovering the truth and getting in too deep with dangerous people as his inquiries move on and the evidence throws up some disturbing truths.

This is an exciting and atmospheric historical crime novel with an intriguing plot and well-drawn characters. Moreover, the author has chosen a fascinating setting and period as the backdrop for the novel and then captured it convincingly, adding much authentic detail but never overwhelming the reader or holding up the plot. I found it a real page-turner; I was eager to read on. Captain Korolev is a very likeable, engaging, moral lead character and it's not difficult to want to root for him throughout. I will definitely be back to follow Korolev in his next investigation!
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The Holy Thief by William Ryan (Hardcover - 7 May 2010)
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