At the apex of World War II, Moscow’s most notorious detective gets one last assignment from his master, Joseph Stalin.
Eastland (Red Icon, 2015, etc.) is the nom de plume of literary novelist Paul Watkins (Midget Submarine Commander, 2013, etc.), who offers here the seventh story about Inspector Pekkala, the unflappable Finnish police detective who began his career as Czar Nicholas II’s personal investigator and went on to work for the Communists. This entry begins in April 1945, just as the Battle of Berlin is about to begin. Via the British intelligence services, Stalin learns that one of their operatives, code-named Christophe, has gotten access to a secret of vital importance to all the players about to divide up Germany. More important, the spy turns out to be Lilya Simonova, Pekkala’s lost love, whom he hasn’t laid eyes on since 1917. Stalin dispatches Pekkala and his Watson-like comrade, Kirov, to the heart of Nazi Germany to retrieve her but with Kirov under orders to execute Pekkala if he doesn’t want to return. Eastland’s old-school spycraft is as sharp as ever, and as in his nuanced depiction of the deadly Stalin in earlier books, here he takes us deep inside the Führerbunker in Berlin, where the paranoid narcissist Hitler faces his final days. It transpires that Lilya has become the confidante of real-life SS officer Hermann Fegelein, brother-in-law to Eva Braun and liaison to Himmler. Meanwhile, we learn that the general in charge of Hitler’s V2 rocket program has developed a vastly improved new guidance system that could turn the tide on the war. It’s essentially the novel’s MacGuffin, but it gives the proceedings a sense of urgency, not to mention giving Eastland’s fictional Hitler an even more foreboding sense of evil. This final entry in a superb historical series not only stands well on its own, but also gives its iconic hero a satisfying finale.
A sharp spy story that deftly mixes fiction with history and also offers a rewarding denouement for Eastland’s near-mythic detective.