William Ryan is deservedly getting a great deal of positive attention for his latest novel, A House Of Ghosts, but his first three novels – featuring Captain Alexei Korolev – were also more than somewhat tasty and are well worth checking out.
The first of the Korolev trilogy, The Holy Thief is set in Moscow in 1936, at the start of Stalin’s deconstruction of the city. Korolev, the star detective in the Moscow Militia’s Criminal Investigation Division, is sent to investigate the unusual and brutal murder of a woman whose body is found in a desecrated church. And, of course, this is a far from simple case, especially as it is carried out in the chilly shadow of the NKVD’s Colonel Gregorin, who believes that the case may well have political implications.
Korolev is a good man trying his best to complete his investigation whilst dealing with corruption, paranoia and the tangible fear of the times. A world that Ryan evokes very well indeed. The rich atmosphere of The Holy Thief is, in fact, one of its strong points and the book’s historical details all help move the story forward rather than bogging it down, as is common in some historical crime novels.
The Holy Thief is a deftly paced and constantly involving mystery with an interesting cast of characters and an immensely likable hero. It is a cracking good story, very well told and it confidently kicked off a deservedly successful series.
It’s 1937 and at the close of a particularly harsh winter, Korolev receives an ominous knock on the door in the dead of night. Despite recently being decorated, he expects the worse – to be dispatched to certain death in one of Siberia’s frozen prison camps. However, he is, in fact, sent off to a film set in Odessa, to investigate the apparent suicide of a young woman who was a ‘very close’ friend of the Commissar for State Security.
The Bloody Meadow throbs with a sense of paranoia and fear, as Korolev carefully negotiates the tangled spider web of Stalinist Russia while trying to get to the bottom of the case. The Bloody Meadow is an immensely satisfying murder mystery that is packed with great characters -including some familiar faces from The Holy Thief – and strong on atmosphere. Korolev himself is a particularly likeable protagonist who constantly struggles with the duality of his position and the need to do the right thing.
Ryan’s great descriptive skills are really to the fore in The Bloody Meadow, which is sometimes so richly cinematic the it makes you wish that Carole Reed were still alive in order to faithfully adapt the book for the silver screen.
Paranoia and tension once again permeate 1930s Moscow in The Twelfth Department. The tightly-woven story kicks off with a fast-moving prologue, as Korolev and his cohorts capture the head of the Grey Fox gang in one of Moscow’s parks. This is a neat little scene with a great sense of time and place and smartly introduces us to some of the major players in The Twelfth Department’s cast of characters.
After this case, Korolev is supposed to be on leave, taking care of his estranged son Yuri for the week, but this is interrupted when Professor Boris Azarov, Director of the mysterious Azarov Institute is shot dead in an exclusive apartment, in the shadow of the Kremlin. Almost as soon as he starts his investigation, however, Korolev is taken off the case. So he heads off to the countryside with Yuri but there is a knock on the door in the middle of the night, Korolev is dragged back to Moscow and Yuri goes missing.
The Twelfth Department is an engrossing and satisfying follow up to its cracking predecessors. The story is a compelling, twisting and turning investigation and Korolev and the other characters are very well drawn- especially Count Kolya, leader of the Moscow Thieves.
All in all, fantastic stuff.
Find out more about William Ryan HERE.