THE MAN FROM ST. PETERSBURG by Ken Follett

THE MAN FROM ST. PETERSBURG

KIRKUS REVIEW

Follett, whose thrillers have been impressively tough-minded, goes all soft now--with a pre-WW I suspense-romance that recycles the Eye of the Needle premise (woman adores assassin) but surrounds it with the soupy conventions of corny family-saga fiction. In 1914, elegant Lydia is the prim, devoted wife of conservative diplomat Lord Walden and the protective mother of 18-year-old Charlotte. But 19 years ago, back in her native Russia, well-born Lydia was the lustfully liberated lover of a young anarchist named Feliks. (She married Walden, in fact, to save Feliks' life when he was arrested.) So now, when Lord Walden is about to begin delicate, war-minded negotiations with Russia's Prince Orlov (Lydia's cousin), guess who's on his way to England to assassinate Orlov? Feliks, of course--whose first murder attempt (hijacking Walden's carriage) fails when he catches sight of old-flame Lydia and momentarily loses his nerve. And--though Feliks then seeks out Lydia, rekindles her flame, and tricks her into telling him where Orlov is hiding out--the second attempt also fails; moreover, despite her passion, Lydia won't knowingly help Feliks to kill Orlov (who's in hiding again). So Feliks now starts following Lydia's naive daughter Charlotte--who, as it happens, has just begun rebelling against her quasi-Victorian upbringing. (There's the usual suffragette sequence--handled less well here than in dozens of other historical novels.) And, implausibly, Charlotte quickly becomes Feliks' unwitting accomplice, while Feliks--suddenly humanized--stews guiltily, because. . . Charlotte is his daughter! The finale, then: Feliks goes after Orlov, who's at the Walden country estate; Lydia figures out Feliks' plan but can't warn her husband without revealing the secret of Charlotte's paternity; Charlotte learns who Feliks really is; and, after killing Orlov, Feliks sacrifices his life to save Charlotte's. Unfortunately, this operatic, sentimental-melodrama setup is full of holes--from the coincidence-heavy plotting to the unconvincing characterizations to the dubious history. (You never believe that Orlov's death will really prevent World War I.) And the narration is uncharacteristically slack--heavy on flashbacks and droopily emotional internal-monologues. Still, though this is Follett's weakest book by far, the big-name byline and the overall readability (plus a jolt or two of graphic sex) should ensure a sizeable readership--with historical-romantics more likely to be pleased than Follett's usual thriller fans.
Pub Date: May 14th, 1982
ISBN: 0451208706
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1982




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