on 21 November 2013
I was really eager to get stuck into Raymond Khoury's fourth novel in his Templar/Reilly series, and with the chance to read about modern Russian history and how it's most notorious mysterious character, Rasputin, fits into the present day. Khoury really does have a nifty skill at writing quick-fire action scenes, getting the blood pumping and keeping your attention until the very last page. With the previous outing, we saw a much more personal approach to the story, with protagonist, Sean Reilly, taking centre stage - and I thought it would be extremely interesting to see how things would continue here.
What hits you straight away, is the mystery of why a Russian embassy official has seemingly committed suicide, and the elderly (ish) couple who lives in the flat, mysteriously disappeared? Things just don't add up for Reilly, as he is suspicious about the Russian connection in this case; feeling as if Russian FSB agent, Larisa Sokolova, is not revealing the full truth. It isn't until we learn of an unusual device that can cause people to become so enraged that they turn on everyone around them, that we see a connection back to the early 1900's and of course to the peasant who rose the social hierarchy, gaining the love and respect of the Russian Royal family - Grigory Rasputin.
The plot in Rasputin's Shadow is pretty decent and interesting - I mean, a machine that can be used unknowingly on innocent victims to turn them into savage barbarians is pretty mind-blowing. And addictive! What I really loved, especially early on, is how the reader can see both sides of the plot as it happens. Sokolov (the elderly retired Russian) weaves the tides expertly, trying to save his captured wife, as well as bringing his own plan of action into play. He's actually a really endearing character, toying with his guilt of building a machine that can used so viciously, and with lying to his wife.
In the first half of the book, Reilly is a little lost. No leads means no areas of investigation. His language and inward thoughts are extremely reflective and I think this is a nice touch. It does slow things down a little, but I liked seeing this side of Reilly. But as expected, Reilly is smart enough to figure things out, and by the last 100 or so pages, he takes the lead and really cements himself in the action. Some people may be put off by the switch up in writing style if they are unfamiliar with The Devil's Elixir, but I think this experimental style is genius. Most parts are written in the third person, but when Reilly's part comes around, it reverts to being in first person. I can see how this may annoy people, but what this does is give us a brilliant chance to get inside of Reilly's mind more.
What really hit me though, was the journal entries that feature throughout the book. Written by a Russian monk called Misha, he was Rasputin's sidekick of sorts, and his views of the political and social environment and mood within Russia during his friend's rise is simply riveting. I found myself yearning to read more of Misha's insights and they really are a gem. My only complaint is that I think there could have been a few more bits.
Most of the characters in Rasputin's Shadow are quite interesting. Reilly is, well Reilly and if you've read him for as long as I have, you tend to know what to expect from him, but he's a good lead. As I've already mentioned, I found Sokolov incredibly believable and I urged (aloud sometimes) for him to be OK in the end. His obvious love for his wife and his temptations to satisfy his scientific mind were really mesmerising to read. The Korean, Johnny, was also a surprise read for me. I found his arrogant start a little annoying, but his part in the story made complete sense. And we all love a great baddie, don't we? Koschey may not be a malicious as the villain in The Devil's Elixir, but he is incredibly smart, and very readable.
I did find however, the Russian agent, Larisa, a little redundant. I didn't really get a feel for, and it wasn't until the very end where you actually get to see more of what she's capable of, but by then, I found I could take her or leave her. And what about Tess! I can see why Khoury decided not to feature her in this story, but I've come to love the duo of Reilly and Tess, and with her missing from this book altogether - well, it was a little downer for me.
There is also a little second plot running through Rasputin's Shadow. If you are a Khoury fan, you'll know about the situation between Reilly and his son. Reilly's search for Reed Corrigan, the CIA mind-control spook responsible for brainwashing Reilly's son, does feature slightly, but with the imposing threat of the machine, you can understand why it takes a back seat. It does however come full circle, and Khoury leaves you with a cracking cliffhangar, where this story arc is concerned. I found myself smiling at the end, as I realised that the next book will be explosive - and I can't wait.
If you love thrillers with action, mystery and a touch of history, Rasputin's Shadow is exactly the book to get. I didn't know a single thing about Rasputin's story, but I found the interwoven plots in here ignite my intrigue into this infamous Russian. No matter how far-fetched an idea is, a device that can cause instant rage for example, Khoury's talent in making things extremely believable only cements his status in the thriller genre at the top. Khoury doesn't pull any punches when it comes to his plots. They are gritty, full of action and very current, also never afraid to to reference recent newsworthy points. If you love a good action-packed thriller, be sure to add this to your Christmas list.