City of Thieves, By David Benioff Sceptre £7.99

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The Independent Culture

Benioff is a Hollywood screenwriter and the narrative efficiency such a job requires is much in evidence here in this tale of the siege of Leningrad, which zips along at a fair pace – remarkable when the setting is a city gripped tight by its Nazi oppressors.

The citizens may not be able to leave, and some have been reduced to cannibalism by deprivation, but they still manage to get up to all sorts. Yet Benioff is smart enough to remind us from time to time that his lead characters – the teenage nerd Lev, and the charismatic, slightly mad deserter Kolya – are slowly starving to death: every so often they stop to catch their breath, and hugging Kolya's girlfriend Sonya feels to Lev like clutching a bag of bones.

Both Lev and Kolya must find a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of the daughter of the city's police chief, or they will be executed. The absurdity of this task, in the middle of the worst siege of a city in modern history, actually sits well, offsetting the hopelessness of the actual situation, and Kolya is a mesmerising enough character, witty and irreverent, to carry the tale.

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