by Robert Harris ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 1, 1999
Top-flight thriller, something of a variation on le CarrÆ’'s The Russia House, as an American historian tracks down a MacGuffin of far greater value than the Maltese falcon. Fluke Kelso, having published two books about the fall of the Soviet empire, finds himself invited to a symposium in Moscow that will supposedly focus on newly released archival material. Some think Kelso will reveal yet another bombshell. And that might be true, since he has secretly interviewed elderly Papu Rapava, bodyguard of KGB chief Lavrenty Beria, about the night that Stalin died. Rapava observed all as Beria took a key from Stalin's neck and stole from a safe an oilskin pouch holding the dictator's memoirs (an improvisation on the theme of Harris's first book, 1986's Selling Hitler, about the faking of the Hitler diaries). Later, the pouch was buried in Beria's backyard. The ever-avid Kelso goes ferreting through some recently declassified papers in the Lenin Library, then hunts up Vladimir Mamantov, a Stalinist fanatic he'd interviewed years ago for his big book about the Soviet collapse, a book sneered at by Mamantov because it painted Stalin black. Mamantov concedes that in Western terms the man was a monster, but avers that by Soviet standards he lifted the USSR from the tractor to the atomic bomb. And Mamantov opines to Kelso that Stalinism will return: some 20 million Russians still believe Stalin was the greatest figure of the century--a rather large bloc should some other charismatic figure rise anew to lead it once again. After Kelso makes a secret trip to Beria's house and discovers freshly turned earth, he falls in with an American TV reporter while being tracked by the RT Directorate's chief. Deaths ensue as the trail leads to the White Sea port of Archangel, where Kelso does indeed make a momentous discovery. No personal demons here to soothe, but Harris's (Enigma, 1995, etc.) knack for recreating historical events puts him in very select company.
Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999
Page Count: 416
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998
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