A few chapters into 'The Eye of The Red Tsar', I thought I had found a new crime masterpiece. Its premise was sound, and the writing effortless to read. As the novel continued however, cracks began to appear; the novel was no longer flawless. Whilst still a pleasure to read, the plot became farcical, and serious questions arose about the validity of both the setting and the central protagonist.
Inspector Pekkala was the Tsar's finest policeman. A man with a flawless memory and an attention-to-detail that was second to none. The Tsar's right hand man, he had executive powers to arrest anybody he wanted, including the royal family. Conveniently, after the fall of Tsar and the formation of the Soviet Union, Pekkala was not executed, but kept in isolation in Siberia. Now, Stalin has a need for him. Pekkala is recalled from exile to discover the truth of The Romanovs' the final moments. The Eye of the Tsar must investigate his own master's death.
From start to finish this is a very readable novel, but ultimately, as a whole, it lacks substance. Much is made of Pekkala's infallibility, but in order for dramatic tension to be created, the master of memory does the equivalent of forgetting his own mother's name. (I don't want to give away, what he actually fails to notice, lest it spoil the book.) Then there is the whole question of his acceptance of Stalin's orders, and the assurances that any surviving Romanovs will not be executed. He just accepts his persecutors' word for it; such a naïvety from a master detective is nonsensical.
Generally, the sense of paranoia that one associates with Stalin's reign of terror, is absent from this book. Despite the novel's title, the presence of the 'Red Tsar' is barely felt. The Soviet Union depicted here is a sterile place, lacking the realism of both Child 44 and The Holy Thief. This is a shame because of the three novels, Eastland's writing is the strongest.
I also have to question the mystery itself. Many great fictions have been written between the gaps in history and 'TEOTRT' attempts to do so. Here though, instead of using history's ambiguities to spin a story, Eastland changes physical and known facts. To some this may be a trivial point, but for me it robbed the story of credibility.
All that said, on the whole I enjoyed 'The Eye of The Red Tsar' and for a début thriller, it has much to recommend it. Eastland is an author to watch.