Subjects in crime fiction seem to come in waves these days. Russian history seems to be one of those waves, either that or there's some weird synergy going on in my life. EYE OF THE RED TSAR is one of the Russian themed books I've been lucky enough to receive recently. Set against Russia under the rule of Stalin and all the brutality and ruthlessness that regime imposed, this is a book about the life of Pekkala. A favourite of the Tsar, Pekkala was known to be utterly loyal to his master.
Unexpectedly reprieved he is accompanied by the very new Commissar Kirov on his mission. A bitter sweet assignment for Pekkala. On the one hand, possible success and freedom; on the other, the sadness and despair he feels as he traces the last days of the family he knew, and in particular the Tsar he admired.
The fate of the Romanov's, told from the aspect of the Tsar and the entire family, rather than the more common Anastasia speculation is related as a series of current day events interspersed with flashbacks. So much of what Pekkala sees, hears and touches reminds him of the past. It's a very elaborate, textured way of telling a tale, slowly and intricately, weaving Pekkala's past life, his own background, the current investigation, the Tsar's family, Kirov and Pekkala's estranged brother.
Because Pekkala is narrating this tale the constantly outward looking perspective does mean that you feel like you understand the life that has shaped this man, but you may come away from the book not quite sure who the man has become. As this is the first book in a proposed series, that seems somehow fair enough, one would hope that in the future the character himself will step out from behind the events and into the light a little more.
Having said that, this is a gloriously Russian feeling novel. There is a sense of history, of sadness, a little hope, a lot of reflection, glory found, and more than a little glory lost. There is also, given that this is an alternate history, a timeline at the end which explains what really happened to the Romanov's. For which I, for one, was very grateful. There is such a sense of reality to EYE OF THE RED TSAR that it was very easy to get more than a little confused about facts versus fiction.