Faber £12.99

Review: The Red Moth, By Sam Eastland

The saviour of the art of war

Stalin's Russia, in that up-for-grabs maelstrom bookended by the October Revolution and the Cold War, was always going to be a heady setting for a crime series, and Sam Eastland has mined it expertly with his Inspector Pekkala novels. This is a time of gulags and purging, betrayals and elevations, in which yesterday's chef is tomorrow's Commissar; where the people starve and the party mandarins feast.

The Red Moth, the fourth adventure for the durable Finnish detective, is a fine addition to the series. Pekkala was once "The Emerald Eye", the personal detective of Tsar Nicholas II, but was sentenced to a Siberian work camp once the Bolsheviks seized power. In his debut case, The Eye of the Red Tsar, Pekkala returned, under Stalin's orders, from a decade of purgatory to a future in service of his old enemy.

It is now 1941 and Pekkala and his beleaguered sidekick Major Kirov are tasked with protecting one of the great Imperial treasures: The Amber Room in the Catherine Palace. "It is not possible to grasp the vast complexity of those thousands of fragments of amber," states Semykin, the imprisoned art curator assisting Pekkala. "Once in a thousand years, we forget about butchering each other just long enough to create a work of art so much greater than ourselves that it becomes a symbol of achievement for the entire human race. The Amber Room is such a thing."

However, Nazi plunderers are at the gate and Pekkala and Kirov need to fight a rearguard action from either side of the Russian front. Pekkala is an intriguing protagonist, a narrative dynamo who is so isolated and conflicted by his Faustian pact as to be a flickering, spectral presence. This is a wise ploy, as it allows room for the supporting cast, such as the culinary-minded Kirov, to pursue their own stories. It also highlights the perilous position held by any comrade with a past; a predicament where being a ghost is the only way to stay alive.

But then the author himself is something of a phantom. Sam Eastland is the pseudonym of the celebrated American novelist and memoirist Paul Watkins. Here he returns to the curious canvas of the art world at war which he brilliantly detailed under his own name more than a decade ago in The Forger. In doing so he has created speculative fiction of the finest type and proved that Pekkala is one ghost with a few lives left to live.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms