Review: Eye of the Red Tsar

Eye of the Red Tsar
Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now this is more like it. A well-written and wonderfully intriguing tale of (just) post-revolutionary Russia. Full of incident and clues and what might be clues and what might not be clues. You never know.

I’ve no idea if Sam Eastland is in any way part-Russian, but I can imagine after reading this one, he just might be. He really does capture what I can (also) imagine must have been the optimism shot through with (possibly) typical Russian fatalism. Of the promise to the ordinary Russian that the revolution gave, but that became not just a struggle to survive the suspicion, the culls and the secret police informers, but a struggle to survive.

It is presented in rather a nice way, as what are really two stories, running side by side. The one, is an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the Romanov family, the Tsar of the title and his family, and of course, his treasure – if it exists, if it ever existed – that is taking place in the here and ‘now’. Then the other, is flashbacks of the former life of the titular Pelukka, ‘The Eye of the Tsar’, from his childhood in Finland, when Finland was a part of the Russian empire, his work for and close relationship to Николай II, Николай Александрович Романов, that’s Tsar Nikolay II, Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov, to you and me, to his first ‘encounters’ with Stalin and his particular brand of Communism in post-Imperial Russia. It’s perhaps not giving all that much away, to say Pekkala comes off second best. By a long way. For a long time. Each narrative interweaves and illuminates the other and you really get a good feel for how Russia was and was developing, in the years following the revolution.

‘Eye of the Red Tsar’ is much better than The Red Coffin, the second one in the series. Which I read first. Though that might have been a fortunate, happy accident – quite possibly the right thing to do. I did feel ‘Coffin’ was a little lacklustre, and I could well have said ‘ok, this is where I stop. I’ll get off the Inspector Pekkala train here thanks.’ I can well imagine a few people will. However, there was at least enough that was intreguing in ‘Red Coffin’, to make me search out ‘Red Tsar.’ Having read this one, I’m ready to reappraise the whole thing and am looking forward to seeing if Sam Eastland can get it back on the rails with ‘Siberian Red’ and others.

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