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Shevchenko, A K - 'Bequest'
Hardback: 352 pages (Jan. 2010) Publisher: Headline ISBN: 0755356357

The political thriller BEQUEST is the first book by Ukrainian born author Anna Shevchenko. BEQUEST hinges on the legend of the lost Cossack gold, allegedly deposited in the Bank of England in the 18th century by Hetman Polubotok, who made a will allowing a future independent Ukraine to inherit the vast majority of the gold. Andriy Polobutko, a descendant of Hetman Polubotok, tries to claim the family inheritance, and instructs Kate, an English solicitor with Ukrainian ancestry, to help with the legal aspects of recovering the gold.

As this sudden influx of money would hugely tilt the balance of power between the Russian republic and the recently independent Ukrainians, and would have severe consequences for the Bank of England, the recovery attempt attracts the attention of the Russian and English intelligence services and governments. Taras, an officer of the Russian Security Service, the modern equivalent of the KGB, has a mission to try and prevent any claim on the gold. Since Ukrainian independence, Taras has been sidelined into an backroom job in the archives, as his loyalties are seen as suspect. But now he has the chance to revive his career.

The action, which takes us between London, Russia, Argentina and Cambridge and to the Ukraine in tracing the documentation backing the inheritance claim and attempts to contact the Ukrainian president, is seen from the perspectives of both Kate and Taras. The history of previous attempts by Polobutko family members to claim the Cossack gold (all foiled by the Russian intelligence services) are interwoven into the narratives. This shows the poignant fates of the 18th century young woman Sophia Polobutko and that of her 1960s counterpart, the student Oksana, who was deluded into a false sense of security by the seeming stirring of greater openness.

Both Taras and Kate in their way are casualties of the post-Cold War political order, albeit with Taras's unhappiness more evident due to his deprived upbringing and experiences of army bullying. Fact and fiction are carefully entwined: the Cossack gold legend being founded in a real legend (and a 1990 attempt by a Ukrainian poet to assert the claim), and diary extracts and the experiences of academic repression by the authorities are taken from the author's family history.

BEQUEST is an intriguing and enjoyable novel, dealing with the thriller theme with surprising subtlety of characterisation and plot, which is quite an achievement given that the themes of lost gold and international balance of power could potentially lead to sensationalism. The plotting and different time-lines and perspectives are deftly handled by the author. This novel should appeal to fans of John Le Carre and David Downing who are interested in the post-Soviet era and I very much look forward to future books from this author.

Laura Root, England
January 2010

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 10/01/2010 11:40