Moscow, 1937. Captain Korolev, a police investigator, is enjoying a long-overdue visit from his young son Yuri when an eminent scientist is shot dead within sight of the Kremlin and Korolev is ordered to find the killer. It soon emerges that the victim, a man who it appears would stop at nothing to fulfil his ambitions, was engaged in research of great interest to those at the very top ranks of Soviet power. When another scientist is brutally murdered, and evidence of the professors’ dark experiments is hastily removed, Korolev begins to realise that, along with having a difficult case to solve, he’s caught in a dangerous battle between two warring factions of the NKVD. And then his son Yuri goes missing . . .
A desperate race against time, set against a city gripped by Stalin’s Great Terror and teeming with spies, street children and Thieves, The Twelfth Department confirms William Ryan as one of the most compelling historical crime novelists at work today.
Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev is back!
When I first started reading William Ryan’s series a couple of years ago I hadn’t expected to like it as much as I did. I’ve never really had an interest in Russian history or any fictional story that’s based in 1930’s / 1940’s Russia come to think of it but there’s something about this author’s writing and characterisation that simply draws you in to the period, suffocating the reader, keeping them prisoner for as long as the book lasts.
Once again Ryan hooked me in from the very beginning and the twists and turns and false leads kept me entertained until its satisfying dénouement. Korolev is a star, there’s no two ways about it. Put him in the modern era with limitless technology and I’m certain he’d come out smelling of roses, despite getting involved in a few skirmishes along the way. (Korolev time traveller, now there’s an idea!) He does here, minus the mobile phones and gps tracking of course but one thing he’s not afraid to do is find out the truth. Everything is old school; a conviction is hard earned and reliant on good information, loose lips, copious amounts of dialogue and clever reasoning.
Once again the story is set in Moscow in the late 1930’s and once again the author sets an oppressive scene where ordinary Russians – governed by Joseph Stalin – are scared of the early morning tap on the door from the Militia. Ryan paints a rather bleak and atmospheric Moscow, a Moscow that holds out little hope of freedom of speech, where one careless sentence, glance or reaction could land you in prison – or worse. There’s very little to like about it. The scenes suffocate but still I kept reading, intrigued with Korolev and his friends.
Witnesses are few and far between, people are afraid to get involved for fear of reprisal. Ordinary citizens – children too – are here one day and gone the next, there is no limit to the power of the militia with millions disappearing to correctional labour camps. Ryan paints a worrying picture.
As you will no doubt have guessed by now, there’s little colour in the book – save for Captain Korolev – but neither would you expect a book set in this period to be anything but black and grey! For me, no matter what the scene or what predicament our champion finds himself in, as soon as he enters stage right he lights up the book. He somehow adds colour to the prose even though it’s not really there in its atmospheric form.
I enjoyed the storyline and although there’s not a huge amount of things going on, William Ryan delivers an exciting and real page turner of a story. The Twelfth Department is a fluid and entertaining read that sets the scene rather nicely for Russia’s industrial future. A story of power and survival on the streets of Moscow the book is a welcome addition to Captain Korolev’s history.
And for those interested in such things, Stalin is set to rule for another 21 years so Moscow isn’t about to change overnight! If the author does move the story on a few years I’d love to see what he does with Nazi Germany and the invasion of 1941. I digress! Recommended along with the other two books in the Korolev series.
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Mantle (23 May 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0230742750
- ISBN-13: 978-0230742758