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Eastland, Sam - 'Eye of the Red Tsar'
Trade Paperback: 352 pages (Jan. 2010) Publisher: Faber and Faber ISBN: 057124534X

A major problem with being the most trusted detective in the Tsar's secret police is that your position can change very quickly after October 1917. Inspector Pekkala, known as the Emerald Eye, survives the revolution but is exiled to Siberia where he lives alone in a forest, marking trees for labour gangs to cut down. At least, that's what does until 1929 when a newly-minted young commissar comes to tell him that Joseph Stalin would like Pekkala to find out what happened to the Romanov family. Unfortunately, it turns out they're not alone in their search.

This is an engrossing historical novel, notable for being centred on the fate of the Romanovs without worrying about Princess Anastasia. The book is a bleak road trip across Stalin's already tarnished new Russia, followed by a prolonged stay in a town given an unwanted fame by the murder of the Romanovs, which is now full of people who'd rather not have people asking questions.

Much of the book is flashback - for once chapters in italics aren't to put the reader in the mind of a psychopath - as virtually everything Pekkala sees or touches reminds him of something similar from his old life. It's all very Proustian. If you don't like flashbacks, this isn't the book for you. The flashbacks contrast Pekkala's current life with his old life, to the detriment of the new; but then, his pre-revolutionary life involved long conversations with the Tsar, and his new social circle is limited to his estranged brother and wet-behind-the-ears commissar Kirov.

As this is the beginning of a series, with one character who has spent a decade or so with no human character, and another character who doesn't really know he's been born, the personalities are a little limited but it looks like they'll have room for development in the following books.

Helpfully, there's a time-line at the end which explains what actually happened to the Romanovs, which is slightly different to events in the book, and has a lot more about Anastasia.

Rik Shepherd, England
May 2010

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 5/02/2011 14:44