Monday, November 14, 2011

The Holy Thief

by William Ryan

1936. Russia. Stalin is in power. Churches are being demolished since religion is banned. The country is getting ready to celebrate its nineteenth anniversary of the Revolution. However, rations are short, queue lines for basics are long, and Captain Korelev of the Militia (Russia's version of a police force) shares an apartment with a widow and her young child. On the day of his move to the new apartment, he begins an investigation into the torture and murder of a young woman found in a church. Almost immediately afterward, a Colonel from the NKVD (State Security), contacts Korolev and wishes to impart some vague information and to be kept updated on the case.

The next day, a high ranking member of the Thieves (an organization of criminals working in Moscow) is found murdered. Then a member of the NKVD itself is found shot in a soon to be demolished church. Korolev finds himself caught up in a twisted plot to steal an historical religious icon.
Who wants it? Who has it? Who can Korolev trust?

A very nice change from the modern day murders you see so often. This takes you back to the beginnings of the bad old days of Communist Russia and the terror of Stalin's reign, before the KGB was popular but sending people to ungodly prisons or Siberia was. This isn't glamorous Russia, but a bleak look at a culture destined for suffering for many years to come.

Korolev: Early forties. Captain in the Militia, Russia's police force. A Believer, a religious man secreting a Bible in his apartment. Loyal to Russia and wants to see the 'dream' of Communism succeed to improve his country and its people. Fought against the Germans in the first world war.
Divorced with a son.

Popov: Korolev's superior. Dealing with one of his own men turned in as a traitor and having to defend his actions, or rather, inactions to State Security.

Semionov: Korolev's junior officer and assistant. Early twenties. Just learning the ropes.

Gregorin: Colonel in the NKVD. Interested in Koroelv's murder case.

These are the main players and I apologize, but I didn't want to spend time spelling out their entire names. I had a difficult time as it was pronouncing the names of streets and businesses. Anyway, very well defined characters. You can see the personality of each one whether government slimeball or underworld mobster or writer or party yes-man.

Each character has his or her own voice. The conversations are direct, to the point, without being too philosophical or long-winded.

Complex. Ryan does a nice job, though of describing Russia and the culture without dragging the story along. I like the setting and the time period even though I was skeptical going in. I'm not a big fan of historical mysteries, but this one drew me in. The action was good. A little predictable in the end but otherwise a very well written book. I didn't like to see a certain character killed because I thought he might be a good person to have around for the next book. Look for Ryan's sequel “The Bloody Meadow.”

My ranking:

Brown Belt

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