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To Kill a Tsar
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can recommend it to anyone who loves a gripping tale of suspense in an authentic historical setting. Andrew Williams has moved from World War II, the focus of his earlier writings, to late 19th century Russia and the events around the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, a period with which many English readers are less familiar than they are with 1917. It tells of the romantic involvement of Frederick Hadfield, a Doctor from a respected Anglo-Russian family, with Anna Kovalenko, a young teacher who is a member of The People's Will, a small but influential band of revolutionaries.

It is a story of conflicting passion and principle, as Frederick's love leads him inexorably, if unwillingly, into association with terrorism. Mixing fiction skilfully with accurate treatment of historical facts and people, Andrew Williams also gives a fascinating insight into the merciless but ultimately inefficient corrupt and informer-led government in St Petersburg at a time of autocratic but creaking imperialism, and into the motivation and activities of early resistance leaders. He also throws light on the situation and influence of the small but powerful Anglo-Russian community.

Once you have assimilated the sheer number of characters met in the early chapters, and despite the plethora of complicated Russian names, this novel deserves the accolade of all the best thrillers -it is just hard to put it down!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2010
Williams brilliantly evokes this chapter of Russian history which, for me, was completely unknown. The backdrop is 1880s Moscow and a deeply divided society which harbors a group of terrorists desperately trying to overthrow an increasingly unpopular and tyrannical regime. Williams expertly conveys the danger, the excitement and the hope of these people as they fight against an ever more determined and violent secret police. By following the lives of characters from both sides Williams conjures a tense and desperate game of cat and mouse which draws to a dramatic - and historically unprecedented - conclusion.

At the centre of it all is a romance between two people irresistibly drawn together but whose vastly different backgrounds seem destined to keep them apart. Their characters and circumstances are believably and sympathetically conveyed making this not just an historical thriller but a poignant look at the futility and self destructiveness of a certain kind of love.

For anyone who loves Robert Harris and historical fiction, 'To Kill a Tsar' is the next one to put on your reading list. Like Williams' first novel, it's unputdownable. Highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed Andrew Williams debut immensely. This is even better. The author is able to blend plot, period detail and characterisation to produce a wonderfully evocative story. One of his particular strengths is his ability to convey period detail so skilfully - in a way that strengthens the novel. This is in stark contrast to many lesser novelists who tend to insert, somewhat clumsily, sections of description that seem little more than extracts lifted from historical/travelogue sources. If you enjoy well written page-turning thrillers then do buy this. Its a great read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2010
This fascinating historical thriller focusses on a relatively little-known period of Russian history, the 1880s and the Anglo-Russian community of St Petersburg. A terrorist group called The People's Will is plotting to kill Tsar Alexander II, and an Anglo-Russian doctor becomes entangled in their schemes when he falls in love with Anna, a revolutionary.
The novel raises questions about the motivation of terrorists and the extent to which violence is justified to remove an authoritarian and repressive regime; questions which resonate with contemporary concerns.
Amongst Williams' strengths is his attention to historical detail, evoking an entirely believable lost world; while never losing the compelling story-telling which makes this thriller unputdownable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2013
Based on actual events of two years leading up to the assasination of Tsar Alexander II in St Petersburg, it revolves around an English doctor's love for one of the revolutionaries and the actions taken by the state police to capture them. The story about the nascent terrorist organisation which leads 30yrs later to the Bolshevik revolution sustains the excitement through a period of repeated attempts on the tsar's life mainly from the viewpoint of the lovelorn liberal doctor. Whilst Dr Zhivago gave widespread knowledge of Lenin's involement of the 1917 revolution (also through a doctor's eyes), this period between 1879 and 1881 is less well known. A good read for anyone interested in Russian history with a helping of romance, it conjures up a fascinating glimpse of life and the forces for and against the future of the monarchy.
One point, which I'm sure is unlikely to occur with other readers, that slightly blighted my image of the heroine, Anna, was her initial description meant I was permanently left with a vision of pictures of Queen Victoria
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2012
Having little knowledge of this important and pivotal era of history I was looking for a book that would inform and educate me in my inadequacy. Textbooks and literature on the subject of the pre-Russian revolution go into far too much detail for a casual historian such as myself and as they did with I, bore and deter until interest in the subject is lost completely.

Clearly equipped with an incredible amount of research on the subject, Williams has been able to craft an exciting and very accurate account of the events of the time, giving an uncanny sense of being in the den of 'The People's Will' alongside the socialist terrorists. Although at times slightly confusing with all the Russian names, the context soon enough makes each character easy to recognise. The ending suggests a sequel could be written and I truly hope it is.

Well worth a read and has encouraged me to look for similar books on the subject.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2010
I enjoyed this for its pace, its sense of place and time and the window it opened onto a killing I knew very little about. It also has an interesting historical context: what happens when a nation fights individual violence with state sponsored violence - how might the world be different if the next Tsar had liberalised rather than tightened his control? A good read, and also worth talking about - a good reading group choice, I would say.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2012
I enjoy reading history and historical novels that are based on fact and well-researched. This is one I am now recommending to all my friends and colleagues. Not only is it well written, but it beautifully captures the spirit of the time in which it is set and St Petersburg at the time of the events. This early revolutionary period in Russia is not an historical subject that is well-known or perhaps immediately appeals, but Andrew Williams has brought this to life and I now find I know a lot more history wihout really trying. It is a gripping storyline that explores this proto revolution from the revolutionaries perspective and I found myself making parallels with the equally wrong-headed convictions of terrorists today. A good choice for a book club.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2011
Stepping back two generations from his gripping debut novel "The Interrogator", Andrew Williams evocatively recreates the tensions and chill of 19th Century Tsarist St Petersburg. I thoroughly enjoyed this engrossing historical novel of politics, women revolutionaries, and romance, and, as someone who has herself been followed through snowy Russian streets by a shadowy government figure, exactly one century on from the reign of Alexander II, I found the descriptions of a city polarised by the regime, very authentic.

Any readers who have enjoyed "Faberge's Eggs" by Tony Faber or "The Siege" by Helen Dunmore, will recognise the grandeur of the Russian Imperial Family, and the icyness of winter in St Petersburg.
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on 24 April 2015
I found this book in my local library. I was intrigued by the title and I enjoy history. Andrew Williams is a British writer and former television journalist who was born on 8 May, 1962 in Sheffield, England. He was educated at Trinity College, at Oxford University, Oxford and is a former Senior Producer and Director at the BBC, the author of four historical novels and two histories of World War II. He has been nominated for several awards including CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award.

This is a historical novel based on the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1881. In To Kill A Tsar, Williams, explores the motives and the methods of the terrorists, and the use of violence as a political tool, that was employed both by the terrorists and by the secret police who tried to catch them. The assassination of the Tsar was carried out by members of Narodnaya Volya,The People's Will, one of the world's first terrorist organisations. The story of The People's Will is intertwined with the love story of an English doctor, Frederick Hadfield, who falls in love with one of the terrorists, and because of his association with her comes under suspicion by the secret police.

The story in To Kill a Tsar begins in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1879 when a shot rings out in Palace Square and the cossack guards tackle an aspiring assassin to the ground. In the confusion that follows no one notices a beautiful dark haired young woman in a thick coat leave the scene. It is a time when Russia is alive with revolutionaries. While Tsar Alexander II remains a virtual prisoner in his own palaces, his ruthless secret police will stop at nothing to unmask those who plot his assassination and the overthrow of the Imperial Regime. Though they were sometimes called "Nihilists", the political reforms that The People's Will wanted were rather mild liberal ones including representative government and freedom of speech. Although in reality, the Tsar was about to introduce some of those reforms before he was killed, and the assassination led to increased state repression.

Tsar Alexander II was, in truth, a reformer, but, of course, one of the features of reform is often that it increases the demand for reform. Those who want reform often demand that the pace of reform be speeded up, and so reform tends to encourage revolution. This book raises important questions about the use of violence and terrorism to achieve political reform. It does not give answers, though in this case history itself gave the answer.

I really enjoyed To Kill A Tsar. It was an elegant story in a well-researched book. I highly recommend the book and look forward to reading other novels by this author.
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