A disgraced detective is called back to investigate the most famous murder in Russian history.
A fantastic premise, frenetic action sequences and a stellar setting would all set apart this debut novel by Eastland (the pseudonym of a British author now living in the United States). What elevates this Russian period thriller above the ranks of the average potboiler is its mad, brilliant hero, who has been brought back to life after giving up all hope in the Russian Gulag. The novel opens on a Siberian labor camp circa 1929, where one of Stalin’s most hated nemeses has been exiled so far into the Soviet wilderness that his captors are afraid to approach the ghostly figure they call “The man with bloody hands.” Into this harsh reality arrives young Commissar Kirov, who returns Prisoner 4745-P to the land of the living, complete with his old identity: Finnish-born detective Pekkala, whose loyalty to the Russian crown had cost him everything. Soon, Pekkala is brought before Commander Starek, who turns out to be the detective’s long-lost brother Anton. “The Tsar created a unique investigator, a man with absolute authority, who answered only to himself,” Anton reveals. “Even the Okhrana could not question him. They called him the Eye of the Tsar and he could not be bribed, or bought or threatened. It did not matter who you were, how wealthy or connected. No one stood above the Emerald Eye, not even the Tsar himself.” Pekkala’s assignment is to investigate a crime with which he is all too familiar—the execution of the Romanov dynasty, including Tsar Nicholas II and his line—although Pekkala soon discovers that one member of the family may in fact have escaped the massacre. The tale is a bit too reliant on flashbacks, but hair-raising action sequences and spellbinding settings make up for that minor flaw.
So far, the lead contender for beach book of the summer.