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.
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.
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.
I waited with impatience for this, the third in William Ryan’s Kolorov novels to appear in paperback. “The Holy Thief” and “The Bloody Meadow” combined to establish a major new talent in crime fiction. My earlier reviews of these two novels (q.v.), testify to what seems to me a distinctively fresh voice in this field. Kolorov is an engaging and original character in himself, but it is the world of Stalin’s Moscow, which gives the books their special quality. Here Ryan’s skill shines through via his powerfully authentic evocation of this sinister, pressurised society, in which it is difficult to be certain who are friends and who are enemies, a world in which suspicion and fear are part of the daily fabric of life.
Here, even more than earlier, the labyrinthine workings of the checkists, who monitor so closely every fine detail of those lives that inspire in them the slightest political interest, are at the very heart of things. The NKVD is a more sophisticated mirror of the society at large. It is a world of ever-shifting loyalties and betrayals, a world in which everyone casts half an eye over his shoulder, a world living on the adrenaline of power. This is the world into which Korolov is pitched in this story as he fights to maintain his integrity in the face of constant threats and pressures as warring factions treat him as simply the means to their devious ends.
It seems to me that this novel is Ryan’s finest yet. The different elements are fused into a compelling whole; the plot is intricate and beautifully worked out. The hold on the reader is unrelenting. Ryan has raised the cross bar. I look forward eagerly to where he will take us next, confident that he is too fine a writer to disappoint.
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...
on 26 May 2013
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.
on 25 May 2013
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.
on 7 June 2013
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
on 20 December 2013
Another excellent addition to the Korolev series - the central character and the remaining cast really are wonderful. The book really transports you to the Russia of its time too, prepare to be immersed. Would highly recommend for readers of crime, thrillers, drama, historical/political novels). Can't wait for the fourth Korolev to appear.
on 24 June 2014
Under the guise of a detective book, William Ryan captures the sheer terror of living in Stalinist Russia in the 30s. We now know that areas were given quotas to arrest and execute. The protagonists are all scared of uttering a single word out of place and know that they can be denounced without even saying a single word. The chosen few living in luxury flats had a particularly high attrition rate...Chillingly true that people were denounced so others could grab their flat; in the same way people could not wait to get their hands on Jewish flats and homes in Nazi Europe.
Mr Ryan certainly carries out his research but I wonder how much large groups of orphaned children were actually able to roam about Moscow and similarly whether gangsters and crooks were really able to flourish in Stalinist days...
A firmer and more terrifying plot than the previous two as well. All in all, a great series.