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Archangel Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Archangel is a remarkably literate novel--and simultaneously a gripping thriller--that explores the lingering presence of Stalin amidst the corruption of modern-day Russia. Robert Harris (whose previous works include Enigma and Fatherland) elevates his tale by choosing a narrator with an outsider's perspective but an insider's knowledge of Soviet history: Fluke Kelso, a middle-aged scholar of Soviet Communism with a special interest in the dark secrets of Joseph Stalin. For years, rumors have circulated about a notebook that the aging dictator kept in his final years. In a chance encounter in Moscow, Kelso meets Papu Rapava, a former NKVD guard who claims that he was at Stalin's deathbed and says that he assisted Politburo member Beria in hiding the black oilskin notebook just as Stalin was passing. Before Kelso can get more details, Rapava disappears, but the scholar is energized by the evidence Rapava has provided. As Kelso begins to pursue his historical prize, however, his investigation ensnares him in a living web of Stalinist terror and murder. It soon becomes clear that the notebook is the key to a doorway hiding many secrets, old and new.

Harris's understanding of Soviet and modern Russian is impressive. The novel rests on a seamless blend of fact and fiction that places real figures from Soviet history alongside Kelso and his fictional colleagues. Especially disturbing are the transcripts from interrogations and the excerpt from Kelso's lectures on Stalin; the documents provide chilling evidence to support Kelso's claim: "There can now be no doubt that it is Stalin rather than Hitler who is the most alarming figure of the twentieth century." --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

As in his first thriller, Fatherland, Harris again plunders the past to tell an icy-slick story set mostly in the present. Readers are plunged into mystery, danger and the affairs of great men at once, as, outside Moscow in 1953, Stalin suffers a fatal stroke, and the notorious Beria, head of Stalin's secret police, orders a young guard to swipe a key from the dictator's body, to stand watch as Beria uses it to steal a notebook from Stalin's safe and then to help bury the notebook deep in the ground. These events unfold not in flashback proper but as told to American Sovietologist C.R.A. "Fluke" Kelso by the guard, now an old drunk. Following a lead from the old man's story as well as other clues, Kelso, soon accompanied by an American satellite-TV journalist, goes in pursuit of the notebook and, later, the explosive secret it contains; others, including those who cherish the days of Stalin's might, are on the chase as well. With this hunt as backbone, the plot fleshes out in muscular fashion, fed by assorted conspiratorial interests and a welter of colorful, if sometimes too obvious (Stalin as madman; Beria as sadist), characters. The crumbling ruin that is today's Moscow comes alive in the details, which continue as Kelso's search moves north into the frozen desolation of the White Sea port of Archangel. Sex, violence and violent sex all play a part in Harris's entertaining, well-constructed, intelligently lurid tale, which, along with his first two novels, places him squarely in the footsteps not of "Conrad, Green and le Carre," as the publisher would have it, but of Frederick Forsyth. And, like Forsyth, Harris has yet to write a novel without bestseller stamped on it?including this one. Simultaneous audio book; optioned for film by Mel Gibson.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 415 pages
  • Publisher: Jove (February 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0515127485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0515127485
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 1.2 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (160 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,272,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Harris is the author of Pompeii, Enigma, and Fatherland. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 2, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A setting that chills the bone; a premise that chills the heart. These are the pillars of Archangel, a tension driven third novel by former BBC correspondent and London Times columnist Robert Harris.
As in Fatherland (1992), with its disturbing thesis that Nazi Germany had been victorious in World War II and Hitler still lived, Mr. Harris skillfully blends fact and fiction to craft an equally frightening tale of contemporary Russia.
"There can be no doubt that it is Stalin rather than Hitler who is the most alarming figure of the twentieth century.....Stalin, unlike Hitler has not been exorcised....Stalin stands in a historical tradition of rule by terror, which existed before him, which he refined, and which could exist again. His, not Hitler's, is the specter that should worry us."
These words are spoken by "Fluke" Kelso, an antithetic hero, to be sure. Thrice divorced, an unsuccessful writer, he is a historian, a Sovietologist who greets alcohol with enthusiasm and his colleagues with ennui.
In unforgivingly frigid Moscow, where "air tasted of Asia - of dust and soot and Eastern spices, cheap gasoline, black tobacco, sweat," Kelso is a part of a symposium invited to view recently opened archival materials.
He is visited in his hotel room by Papu Rapava, an older man, a drunk, "a survivor of the Arctic Circle camps," who claims to have been an eye-witness to Stalin's death. Rapava says he was once bodyguard and chauffeur for Laventy Beria, the chief of the secret police. Rapava claims to have accompanied Beria to Stalin's room the night the GenSec suffered a stroke, and to have assisted Beria in stealing Stalin's private papers, a black oilskin notebook, which was later buried.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood on April 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
Robert Harris puts academic has-been Fluke Kelso at the center of a tall tale with a solid foundation in the 'wild west' days of post-Soviet Russia. Hookers, mafia, a publicity-mad newshound, former Soviet tough guys, and modern Russian cops all play roles in this page-turner that delves back to the cult of Stalin - and brings that cult into today. The scariest thing about this book is that it's based partially in the reality that Stalin remains a shockingly popular figure in Russia today, which also lends the book an uncomfortable veneer of plausibility.

I've read three of Harris's works now - Pompeii, Imperium, and Archangel. Contrary to some other reviewers, I enjoyed this book more than Pompeii and found it to be more of page-turner than Imperium (I thought Imperium was a bit more of a serious book - closer to literature than mass market paperback like Archangel).

I suppose the ending, criticized by others as implausible, does require one to perform a sizeable suspended disbelief, but if you pull that off, the ending hangs together. It's just a creepy lot of fun to see how Professor Kelso is going to get out of this mess and the crazy company he's keeping.

Highly recommended.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
In no other way is the terror, fanaticism and cunning of Stalin brought forward more forcefully. Nowhere else can anyone experience the sheer terror that Stalin comanded over his people, and the skill with which Harris displays this feeling is immense. At every turn there is a new revelation, at each chapter a further twist in the plot, until the end is revealed in stunning power, excitement and suspense. This is a fantastic book, and made even more frightening with the knowledge that Stalin could have done this.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 6, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
After reading all 40 of the reviews, I am amazed that so many readers found the ending unbelievable. I lived in the Soviet Union before and after its demise. The comment I heard so often from the common person was a desire for a strong leader, "like Stalin." The ending of the book was frighteningly believable down to the political posturing and manipulation of the media. I'm pondering how so many readers could find the ending so unbelievable. Perhaps you must live in a culture to really entertain the possiblities. Given all of this, I am still disappointed with the last few paragraphs. I'm not sure how it ended. I wonder if that was the author's intent or whether it was a typical television, movie question-mark ending that leaves rooms for sequels. Nevertheless, the book captured the Russia I experienced so profoundly that I had to set it aside several times because of the deep emotional impact his very clear descriptions evoked.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Simon Jackson on July 24, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Robert Harris in his novel Archangel presents me with something of a dilemma. I enjoyed thoroughly some aspects of the book and others I found to be almost unreadable. I do not have an issue with plots that are far-fetched or fantastic in nature, but to convince me they do need an element of conviction. At times, particularly in the latter half of Archangel, I felt the author wanted nothing more than to get the book over with.
Joseph Stalin is the central figure in the plot, his thoughts, beliefs and actions shape the events of the novel. Indeed, Harris writes well of the power of a belief system that led to the terrors of Stalinist Russia. He conveys the almost depressing fear of that period in history and transposes it to a modern day Soviet Union. Thus Harris is able to set the scene of the book in an effective way and the tension builds in a convincing manner. However, in doing so Archangel is set in an almost Orwellian Russia, where the bad guys are so bad that they come over a little cliched and the Russian people become caricatures, almost totally grey and devoid of humanity.
There was real scope in this book to develop an excellent story line to a thrilling conclusion. For me this did not happen in that the conclusion was so predictable that perhaps the description `thriller' was not an appropriate one. In rushing the second half of the novel and putting so little effort into the conclusion Robert Harris missed a opportunity to make a mediocre novel into an excellent one.
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