Set in a Siberian labor camp, this atmospheric (read: brrrr!) thriller finds Nicholas II's one-time special investigator on an undercover assignment from Stalin to solve a cold-case murder—and find the long-dead tsar's hidden supply of gold.
Inspector Pekkala is more than a little familiar with Siberia. Banished there after the fall of the Romanovs, he spent nine brutal years in a forest marking trees, a job no man had previously survived for more than six months. Now it's 1939. The world order is crumbling. Russia's treaty with Germany is shaky. America is poised to enter the war. Stalin needs that gold, and now. In Shadow Pass (2011), the previous entry in this series, Pekkala investigated leaks in Stalin's secret tank-building program. Now, the former Finnish soldier must not only uncover the mysteries behind the murder—the victim was falsely identified as the imperial officer in charge of transporting the gold—he must also unravel the secret plot that put his own life at risk. Returning to the gulag, where barrels of formaldehyde await fresh cadavers for medical research, he faces an immediate scary threat from the surviving members of the fight-till-they-die Comitati band. The nomadic Ostyak tribe, which butchers hopeless "escaped" convicts who aren't killed by the cold, lurks on the outskirts of the prison. Fortunately, Pekkala has a few people watching his back. He'll need them in a saga involving trained assassins, harsh betrayals and sudden reversals.
It's a bit hard to believe the hero is as sane and centered as he is following his gruesome ordeal. But while not on a par with Martin Cruz Smith's Renko novels, Eastland's third Inspector Pekkala entry is a model of narrative control and intricate plotting.