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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another corker from William Ryan, 11 May 2013
By 
Amazon Customer "Fiona" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelfth Department: Korolev Mysteries Book 3 (The Korolev Series) (Hardcover)
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Korolev is in desperate trouble, his son is missing, his ex-wife is being `investigated' and one of the leading Soviet scientists has a bullet in his skull.

Korolev, the hard-working and secret Orthodox Christian, finds himself enmeshed in an investigation which has two separate KGB departments trying to out-manoeuvre each other. Korolev who tries to avoid politics whenever possible is caught in the middle...so if his only child.

I have been a huge fan of the Soviet Militia man since his first literary outing. William Ryan, the author, goes from strength to strength. One can feel the oppressive atmosphere of pre-war Soviet Russia, where people disappear and apartments have sealed tape over the door. Korolev has to make his Christian genuflections in a pocket rather than openly.

Added to the political plotting are the truly hideous experiments being undertaken by Soviet scientists, all in the name of progress? What is about totalitarian societies which abandon medical ethics so rapidly?

This book was read in two nights, I could not put it down. The central character stands out as a man who is more concerned with justice and his family than by protecting his person from the dark forces that push forward Soviet progress. The same cannot be said for others in Korolev's Militia department.

What struck me the most is the acceptance that the state could make people disappear, arrest and charge them with due process of law, that everyone is an informer and the only place to speak the truth is in your own head. Family, friends and colleagues cannot be trusted. Informing brings tangible rewards to those who name names. Ironically the most honest character was the criminal king of the Moscow underworld.

Ryan is a superlative writer whose descriptive narrative keeps the reader enthralled. I look forward to reading more of Korlev's adventures. A welcome addition to the pantheon of `Soviet-lit'. Ryan is up there with Martin Cruz Smith and Sam Eastland.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Peek Behind the Iron Curtain, 5 May 2013
By 
Amazon Customer "Boo62" (Ilkeston Derbyshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelfth Department: Korolev Mysteries Book 3 (The Korolev Series) (Hardcover)
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William Ryan returns with the third in his series of Detective Korolev stories.
Based in the heavily oppressive world of 1930'2 Russia Ryan soon re-introduces his audience to the suffocating atmosphere that Stalin's regime imposed on it's subjects.
Korolev must step & speak carefully as he investigates the shooting of a hated professor and soon after the brutal stabbing of the professors rival at work.

The question is though what was that work? Torture & mind control seem to be the research both victims were involved in but Korolev is being watched very closely by a vengeful Orwellian government and must juggle two rival officials both grasping promotion and glory while both using the hapless detective as their means of moving up the ladder.

As he struggles to keep everyone happy, evidence is hidden, doors closed & threats are constantly made. All of which make his job almost impossible but the final straw is the disappearance of his son. Has he run away with a gang of street boys, are they involved somehow or has he been taken as a bargaining chip by the state?

The atmosphere becomes almost unbearable as the story progresses and the unfolding truths are grim and sad.

Ryan writes of a believable and eye opening Russia that saw millions 'disappear' and those left descend into constant fear and petty treachery.
Korolev remains a likeable and human face amongst the crowd and his companions and neighbours look to him to shed some light amongst the inhuman darkness.

This is not without it's flaws though. The pace is slow to the point of almost stopping. There are long passages where little happens and we are left waiting for the story to wake up and lumber on once more.
The other problem is that this is incredibly reliant upon talk. Great long passages of endless chatter that does not always lead us anywhere.

At times I found this quite a struggle to plough through and if it had not been for having read the first Korolev mystery I'm not sure just how long I would have persevered for.

Ultimately I'm glad I did, it add's nicely to the series and was eventually worthwhile but I would say that if you're new to the series then it's best to start at the beginning with The Holy Thief (Korolev Series).

This is not an easy read and requires a bit of determination to stick with but Ryan continues to add a fresh twist to the world of detective fiction. His chosen setting is a world pretty much closed off to the rest of us and it continues to fascinate and horrify in equal measure as he slowly unfolds it before us.
Korolev is a complex & likeable character and the stories twist and turn slowly until the unexpected truth is finally revealed.

Not the best of the three so far but well worth reading for fans of the series.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sinister Soviet thriller, 14 May 2013
By 
Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelfth Department: Korolev Mysteries Book 3 (The Korolev Series) (Hardcover)
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I enjoyed the first two instalments of William Ryan's series about Moscow Militia detective Alexei Korolev (the first more so than the second), so I was keen to get my hands on the third. After moving away from Moscow for the second book The Bloody Meadow (one of the reasons I wasn't so keen on it), Korolev is back at the heart of the Soviet capital for his next case.

At the beginning of the book Korolev is looking forward to a long holiday from work and spending time with his son Yuri, who usually lives with Korolev's ex-wife Zhenya. However, things don't go to plan and Korolev is soon called back to investigate the death of a scientist who worked at a mysterious institute where a sinister method of mind-control and brain-washing of counter-revolutionaries is being developed. One murder quickly leads to another and soon Korolev is embroiled in a web of corruption and intrigue which puts both his and his son's lives in danger.

What I enjoyed most about the first book in the series, The Holy Thief, was the brooding atmosphere and sense of menace which helped to convey the sense of terror under which ordinary Russian citizens were living, terrified of giving themselves away as doubters or, worse still, Christians (something which Korolev struggles to keep hidden about himself). I didn't get that so much with this instalment; the focus is more on political corruption, sinister Stalinist methods of torture and interrogation and (even more) secret government departments - still fascinating stuff though and a nice break from all the Scandi-crime I've been reading lately.

Whilst this book can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, you will get the most out of it by reading books 1 and 2 first. The characters are starting to feel like old friends now and the relationships between them are developing nicely. I'm looking forward to the next one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better with every book, 7 Jun 2013
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Koralev is an endearing character; balancing sullenness, good humour, a hard attitude when he needs it with a softness that ultimately keeps him and his family safe perfectly. William Ryan is growing him with every book and the plot is full of twists and turns permeated by the lead mans relentless quest for truth. These things combined, alongside an ever changing, fast paced Moscow which is beautifully described make for a really enjoyable read...can't wait for the next installment
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid stuff., 26 May 2013
By 
Paul D Brazill (Bydgoszcz, Poland) - See all my reviews
Paranoia and tension permeate 1930s Moscow in The Twelfth Department, William Ryan's third mystery novel to feature the ever harried Moscow police detective Captain Korolev. The tightly-woven story kicks off with a fast moving prologue, as Korolev and his cohorts capture the head of the Grey Fox gang in one of Moscow's parks. This is a neat little scene with a great sense of time and place and smartly introduces us to some of the major players in The Twelfth Department's cast of characters.

After this case, Korolev is supposed to be on leave, taking care of his estranged son Yuri for the week, but this is interrupted when Professor Boris Azarov, Director of the mysterious Azarov Institute is shot dead in an exclusive apartment, in the shadow of the Kremlin.

Almost as soon as he starts his investigation, however, Korolev is taken off the case. So he heads off to the countryside with Yuri but there is a knock on the door in the middle of the night, Korlev is dragged back to Moscow and Yuri goes missing.

The Twelfth Department is an engrossing and satisfying follow up to its cracking predecessors The Holy Thief and The Bloody Meadow.

Ryan's atmospheric writing is typically smooth and full of vivid, cinematic images. The story is a compelling, twisting and turning investigation and Korolev and the other characters are very well drawn- especially Count Kolya, leader of the Moscow Thieves. All in all, fantastic stuff.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars tension and paranoia in pre-war Russia, 25 May 2013
By 
Rob Kitchin - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Twelfth Department: Korolev Mysteries Book 3 (The Korolev Series) (Hardcover)
The Twelfth Department is the third instalment in Korolev series and sees the detective back in his native Moscow after his excursion to the Ukraine in his last outing. Ryan does an admirable job of recreating the tension and paranoia of pre-war Russia, and the ways in which ordinary people try to survive and get by in the system. Korolev is canny, street-wise and willing to take a risk, but he isn't corrupt nor anti-establishment, instead trying to be a good citizen and comrade in a regime that oppresses many. Given his job, he is tested often, and in The Twelfth Department Ryan provides a nice conumdrum to solve both in terms of the case and in surviving being a pawn in a game between NKVD departments. Indeed, this is a well-paced, plot-driven story, and whilst the characters are nicely penned, they are caught in the moment of the story and the reader learns little of their back story or wider situation and it would be interesting to learn a little more about Korolev and his colleagues in the next book. In compensation, there is a strong sense of place, good contextualisation, and vivid atmosphere. Overall, an enjoyable read and solid addition to what is shaping up to be a very good series.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Korolev returns..., 24 May 2013
By 
Raven (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
There are few pleasures in life akin to immersing yourself in a great read, and after the brilliant series opener The Holy Thief, followed by the equally compelling The Bloody Meadow (seek them out if you haven't already), I settled down for another trip to the claustrophobic and suspicious world of Stalinist Russia. So how did The Twelfth Department measure up to its predecessors?

Building on the strength of this already established series, Ryan not only gives the reader the requisite amount of tension and skulduggery that we have come to expect from this excellent series, as Korolev finds himself at the bidding of two masters investigating a dastardly plot involving the brainwashing of dispossessed youths, but also skillfully interweaves an altogether more personal and introspective strand to Korolev himself. The central plot displays its usual strength, as the main theme addresses the necessity for the mind control of the average Soviet citizen to adhere to the rules and constraints of the totalitarian regime. Building on the palpable tension and inherent suspicion of others that such a society produces, Ryan constructs a world where every statement made and action taken must be in accordance with being a model citizen and woe betide those who speak or act of turn. Finding himself at the behest of the feared NKVD, Korolev must endeavour not only not to displease his masters, but also retain his essential humanity in what unfolds as a particularly unsettling investigation that strikes close to his heart and home.

What makes this a different read to the first two books is the addition of Korolev's son Yuri to the mix, on a long overdue visit to his father, and this enables Ryan to expose the more personal fragility of Korolev, which had only been addressed previously in his tentative relationship with Valentina (who shares his apartment with her young daughter). As Korolev refamiliarises himself with his son, aspects of Yuri's schooling weigh heavily on him, again drawing on the mind control theme of the central plot, and their relationship seems stilted at first before the layers of tension begin to break down. Ryan balances their strangeness to each other beautifully, and we begin to see the softness that lays beneath both their veneers. As Yuri becomes a pawn in the plot, Korolev must balance his natural role as protector and father with the needs of his professional demeanour to uncover the truth behind a series of deaths in the scientific community, and the disappearance of other young boys. Likewise, the father/son theme has an impact on another character at the heart of these books, as Count Kolya (the leader of the criminal gang The Thieves) also turns to Korolev when his own son disappears, demonstrating for both men the intrinsic value of family aside from their public personas as detective or criminal. As Ryan unfolds these other layers to Korolev and Kolya, the book illustrates the depth and control of Ryan's characterisation, supported by a whole host of other equally well-defined protagonists connected to both Korolev and the murder victims.

So with exceptional plotting, the assured building of atmosphere and the seamless interweaving of historical detail, supported by a more introspective feel to the characterisation, Ryan has once again produced a superlative read. As I say in the introduction this is a series that deserves attention, so if you haven't had the pleasure of reading these yet you are in for a treat...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended, 21 May 2013
By 
Johnnybluetime - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelfth Department: Korolev Mysteries Book 3 (The Korolev Series) (Hardcover)
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I read the first in the Korolev series and thought it was pretty good without being great and overall that's my opinion of this,the third in the series.Set in Stalinist Russia between the First and Second World Wars,it starts with a murder at a prestigous apartment block for highly valued citizens of the State that Korolev and his assistant Slivka are assigned to investigate.However,no sooner have they started than they are removed from the investigation and state security takes over.Korolev decides to take his son Yuri away for a week or two's holiday,but soon encounters more agents of state security and soon after a second murder back home in Moscow he is re-assigned to the investigation,but in the meantime his son disappears.

Ryan paints a believable picture of Stalinist Russia with plenty of detail and Korolev and Slivka are likable characters and I found this an enjoyable read with plenty of twists and turns.On the downside it won't take a genius to work out who did what and why,but to some extent the mystery is secondary to the portrait of a man struggling to remain honest in a corrupt system.And that's where my biggest reservation lies;despite the detail of life in Moscow in the '30's and plenty of villains Ryan never quite captures a sense of overwhelming menace.It also lacks the humour of Philp Kerr's Bernie Gunther books,which this series seems patently modelled on.Even so,I enjoyed it and would recommend it to fans of Kerr or Tom Robb Smith.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 1930s Moscow Detective Caught Up in a Feud Between Branches of the NKVD, 20 May 2013
By 
John Gaynard "JJGaynard" (Paris, France) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Twelfth Department: Korolev Mysteries Book 3 (The Korolev Series) (Hardcover)
The Darkening Field is another occasion for Ryan to demonstrate that his knowledge of the 1930s Soviet Union is vast. Captain Alexei Korolov is a decent policeman, working with the Moscow militia CID. His life is in many ways bleak: separated from his wife and young son, he doesn't even have a pair of decent boots to wear. One advantage he has been able to obtain for himself, and about which he is slightly ashamed--when many rooms in Moscow house up to three families, is a bedroom of his own in an apartment chastely shared with a beautiful, friendly widow and her daughter.

Korolev is about to enjoy a few days holiday with his son, Yuri, who usually lives with his mother in Zagorsk, a town a good railway ride away from Moscow. Shortly after he collects his son at the Yaroslavsky Station, he is ordered to investigate the death of a scientist member of the Nomenklatura. He confides his son to the beautiful widow and her daughter, who like his son is a member of the Young Pioneer organization. Together they show Yuri the sights of Moscow. Korolev quickly finds out that the scientist who was murdered was a nasty piece of work, given to regularly denouncing his neighbors in the luxury building he inhabits, wholly given over to housing important State officials. The reward for his last denunciation was the right to move into the larger apartment vacated by the man he informed on.

The number of people with a valid motive to kill the scientist grows by the page.We learn that, in addition to being an informant, the scientist was not much of a researcher. His methods and findings, in addition to the way he runs his institute, are all being challenged by a younger colleague, who has been drafted in to audit his work. The younger colleague is killed soon after Korolev questions him.

Korolev is hopeful of solving the two murders quickly; at one point they look so run of the mill that he contemplates turning them over to a junior colleague. But when he tries to quit the case he is co-opted by the 5th department of the NKVD. For reasons he can't understand this turns him into an immediate target for thuggish intimidation from people openly following him around Moscow. He learns that the threats and the beatings are coming from the 12th Department of the NKVD. His child disappears and Korolev nearly forsakes his principles to come up with a false explanation of the murders to save Yuri's life. When he tries to call his wife, he learns that she too has gone missing. In the situation he's in he's going to be damned by one part of the NKVD if he does find the killer and damned by another part if he doesn't. Damned, in both cases, meaning losing his job, his room, his son, his wife, his life or all five of those things.

The interest in the story for me, as in Ryan's two previous novels about this period of Soviet history, was to see if Korolev could maintain his integrity in a duplicitous world, the evil depths of which he doesn't want to contemplate.

Korolev's thoughts mostly have to do with the protection of the people around him, not his own safety. Whenever he wavers or feels like giving in to the criminals working for the State it is because of his concern for the innocent people who may be caught up in the backlash against him. In the Korolev novels there is a threat hanging over every decent person in his entourage. That threat can range from being expelled from one's miserable lodging on a trumped-up charge to being hauled in for talking to a person who has suddenly been designated an enemy of the State.

In a couple of scenes reminiscent of the film at the center of the Darkening Field, Ryan's second novel, Korolev wonders whether the reason for his ex-wife Zhenia's disappearance may be because Yuri accused her of anti-Soviet sentiments to the Young Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union. The charismatic teacher who leads his son''s Young Pioneer section has taught Yuri that it is the duty of children to denounce their parents if they make the slightest criticism of the Soviet Union.

While battling with the cynical turpitudes of Stalinism, in which people in the bugged apartment blocks, not to mention novelists like Isaac Babel, disappear one after the other after an early morning knock on the door, Korolev is conscious that he too may become suspect to his son, and that Yuri will turn him in to his Young Pioneer leader. If I were a deconstructionist I would say that the absence of Babel in this novel, as opposed to Ryan's first two novels, in which he plays an important part, is very significant.

The scenes that provide the most poignant moments of the novel are those in which Korolev, a hero of the First World War and the revolution, needs not only to conceal his own Christianity but also to constantly provide reassurance to his son that he is a good Soviet citizen. Ryan shows the extent to which Stalinism could make an honest mother or father afraid of their own flesh and blood. The whole Soviet system was designed to replace love with evil and use it as a weapon against the people who dared to offer it.

This is a review of a copy of the book that was kindly sent to me by the Publisher.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a compelling and agreeably gruesome read, 28 May 2014
By 
P. Ride (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelfth Department: Korolev Mysteries Book 3 (The Korolev Series) (Hardcover)
I wanted a good read on a long trip, but also something that would give me something to think about. And some blood. I love history novels and the Twelfth Department gave me really interesting information about Stalin's regime - plenty of detail and chilling stuff that I didn't know about the methods of social control that were being used. The way that William Ryan manages to convey the impending sense of the dread caused by the purges and denounciations is extraordinary. But more than anything else this was a great page-turning read. I love the central character, a lumbering bull of a man, and you really get inside his mind as he struggles to save his family, and his job, as well as solve the big bloody crime. I'll be reading more of this series.
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