Eastland, Sam - 'The Red Moth'
In Leningrad, Russia in August 1941, whilst the German invasion forces push their conquering way through the country, a small German scout-plane is forced down when it runs out of fuel. The passenger kills the pilot and then himself rather than to be captured by the Russians. The passenger had a shiny leather briefcase which contained a painting of a beautiful red moth.
Military Intelligence dismisses the picture as insignificant, but in the prevailing state of emergency Comrade Joseph Stalin suspects a German plot. He summons his old adversary, Inspector Pekkala - the elusive Finn who was once Tsar Nicholas II's personal detective - to discover the real significance of this strange wartime cargo. As the storm gathers around them, Pekkala, together with his assistant from the shadowy Bureau of Special Operations, soon find themselves on the path of the most formidable art thieves in history and whose real target, is a secret and prized possession of the Romanovs, once considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. But as the Soviet Union crumbles in the face of the advancing cataclysm, and the chaos of war is everywhere, Pekkala realizes that to protect the Tsar's treasure he must break through enemy lines.
His desperate mission is to outfox the German invaders, or face the anger of Stalin himself. To break though the enemy lines he must pose as a German and look and act like one. As a Finn he has a smattering of German but is not fluent, but is reassured that the conquering German army has a number of foreign nationals in it, including Finns, which would mean he could pass unnoticed.
This multifaceted story is interfaced with four strong narratives. Firstly the difficulty Inspector Pekkala has in interpreting the meaning behind the Red Moth and how that develops. Secondly the difficulty of Rifleman Stefanov who knew Inspector Pekkala as a child, when they both were with the Tsar. Stevanof would be a close companion with Pekkala and one other, behind enemy lines. Thirdly there are many flashbacks to Pekkala's experiences when he worked for the Tsar and also when he was incarcerated in Siberia for nine years. In addition, and fourthly, Pekkala's assistant who remains behind in Leningrad is investigating aspects of the case himself.
THE RED MOTH, the fourth in a series about Inspector Pekkala, is a very exciting story which is very tightly plotted. The author, an American writing under the pseudonym of Sam Eastland, has a real gift for story-telling and has written another eleven books under his real name of Paul Watkins. I found the story immensely gripping and a fast moving adventure thriller. The pages just shot by. It kept me gripped and thoroughly entertained until the final page. An absolutely outstanding book, probably the best big adventure thriller novel you could lay your hands on this month. I can't wait for his next one. Strongly recommended.
Terry Halligan, England