Following his investigations in The Holy Thief, which implicated those at the very top of authority in Soviet Russia, Captain Alexei Korolev finds himself decorated and hailed as an example to all Soviet workers. But Korolev lives in an uneasy peace – his new-found knowledge is dangerous, and if it is discovered what his real actions were during the case, he will face deportation to the frozen camps of the far north.

The Bloody Meadow by William Ryan

The Bloody Meadow by William Ryan

But when the knock on the door comes, in the dead of night, it is not Siberia Korolev is destined for. Instead, Colonel Rodinov of the NKVD security service asks the detective to look into the suspected suicide of a young woman: Maria Alexandovna Lenskaya, a model citizen. Korolev is unnerved to learn that Lenskaya had been of interest to Ezhov, the feared Commissar for State Security. Ezhov himself wants the matter looked into.

And when the detective arrives on the set for Bloody Meadow, in the bleak, battle-scarred Ukraine, he soon discovers that there is more to Lenskaya’s death than meets the eye . . .

There were a number of reasons why I wanted to read The Bloody Meadow by William Ryan, but without a shadow of a doubt the primary reason was the opportunity to read a book based in Russia and by way of travel, The Ukraine. Although written in English, and not translated, the book has an authentic Russian feel to it and I had to continually remind myself that the author was in fact Irish, born in Dublin by way of Moscow!

Educated for the most part in the English language I love the challenge of foreign titles and although, as I have already stated, this isn’t a foreign novel I felt an affinity with mother Russia just by reading it. I felt the cold of winter, the icy snow, the barren landscapes and the harsh realities of the Ukraine in the late 1930’s where struggle and insecurity was very much a way of life – for the factory worker or Militia men and women alike.

I struggled with the first 50 pages or so and that was solely down to the Russian names! What was I expecting right?! However, my life was made a little easier with the inclusion of a cast list at the beginning of the book listing the key players and their role in the book. I have to admit I don’t usually take much notice of cast lists in books but I found this one invaluable and although I slowly began to recognise names I found myself referring to the list deep into the book. Simple but a very effective and well used tool!

The book introduces numerous characters along the way – some more memorable than others – but the two that stood out for me were Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev (Ryan’s protagonist) and Nadezhda Andreyevna Slivka – otherwise known as Captain Korolev and Staff Sergeant Slivka – much easier on the eyes! Colonel Rodinov pairs the two together to investigate the death of Lenskaya and I found the experience of Korolev worked well with the inexperience and enthusiasm of Slivka. The partnership is believable and the characters well thought out and although Ryan affords Slivka ample opportunity to shine it’s Korolev who undoubtedly steals the show – save for a couple of magical appearances by a young boy named Pavel. The book isn’t just about the path to righteousness; there are some shady underworld characters too but to discover more about these flagitious characters you’ll have to read the book!

Korolev is an interesting character; one minute he’s in control and the next he’s showing a more vulnerable and insecure side. Sleeping in his clothes at night, Korolev is convinced he’s minutes away from being transported to Siberia by the state. Fear is never far away; no more so when he flies to Odessa in a plane he believes has no right in staying in the air and at the same time travelling at over 200kmph! His white knuckle grimaces and a feeling of nausea will strike a chord with many people who fear flying and for me this passage was worth the admittance fee alone!

But without question my favourite section of the entire book came when Korolev was forced to share a bedroom with a French journalist called Les Pins – who spoke beautiful Russian by the way – where the two sat down, shared a cigarette and compared battle scars – it reminded me somewhat of a scene from Lethal Weapon 3 – but the humour and subtle digs in the scene were faultless with Les Pins having the last say just before turning in:

The journalist stubbed out the last of his cigarette. ‘One of us needs his beauty sleep, and it’s probably you, comrade Korolev. I hope you don’t snore’

So how does The Bloody Meadow work as a sequel to The Holy Thief? Having not read the first book in series I was a little concerned that I would struggle to get to grips with the book but Ryan only briefly touches on past adventures and this book works very well as a standalone.

The narrative is deftly taut, beautifully written and with an overriding air of paranoia and authority throughout, I was completely and utterly hooked.

Published by Macmillan The Bloody Meadow is available in Hardcover & Kindle formats.

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1 Response » to “The Bloody Meadow by William Ryan – Book Review”

  1. Nikki-ann says:

    This sounds a little like Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy, beginning with Child 44.

    Yet again, I think I’ll be adding another book to my wishlist!

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