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Eye of the Red Tsar: A Novel of Suspense Paperback – January 25, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sam Eastland on the Russian Buckle
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During the mid 1990’s, a friend of mine was present at a construction site in Russia when a backhoe unearthed the body of a soldier. The dead man was laying spread eagled on the carcass of a horse which had been buried at the same time. The man was wearing a long greatcoat, tall boots and had a thick leather belt across his middle. The clothing and the body had been preserved by the soil so that the man appeared to be partially mummified. Upon examination of the corpse, it became clear that the rider had been buried around the time of the First World War. It also seemed clear, from the fact that he had been laid to rest along with his horse, that the man had probably been buried on the same spot where he had been killed. The man’s belt buckle, which clearly showed the double-headed eagle of the Romanovs, identified him as a soldier of the Tsar’s Army. However, because of the location, which was not on what would have been the front lines during the Great War, the man must have been buried after, not during, the war. This would have placed the soldier’s death at some time in the early days of the Revolution, when soldiers still loyal to the Tsar, known as the Whites, fought pitched battles with the Bolsheviks, who became known as the Reds.

During the course of the construction, several other bodies were discovered, all of whom were similarly dressed and, presumably, had been killed during the same battle.

After the bodies had been re-interred, my friend was given one of the belt buckles as a souvenir. He then passed it on to me, and I still have it.

For every book, there is always some unexpected catalyst that sets everything in motion. Waiting for these catalysts to take hold is like standing in the path of a gently falling meteor shower. Ideas will come hurtling past, but they don’t hit you, so eventually you forget them. But then some image or some anecdote will strike you right between the eyes. From that point on, the formation of the book becomes like the making of a pearl inside an oyster. The grain of sand embeds itself inside the oyster. The oyster is not trying to produce a thing of beauty. It is trying to survive. The pearl is the product of pain. It is the same with these stories. Once they have snagged like a fishhook in your brain, you have to find a way to work them loose.

Holding that buckle in my hand made me think of the tens of thousands of people who were swallowed up in that revolution whose stories have never been told. Russian history, perhaps more than any other country, is layered with so many lies, denials, discreditations and rehabilitations that there is no one version of that country’s past. The only reliable stance to take is that nothing about it is reliable. And yet you know that the truth is in there somewhere, woven into the fabric of these deceptions.

For months after I began writing The Eye of the Red Tsar, that rider galloped through my dreams. It became an act of self-preservation to conjure back to life the story of that buckle, and of the man who wore it to his death.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Knowing that his secret police force includes many spies, Tsar Nicholas Romanov selects Pekkala, a Finnish soldier, to become his personal private investigator, the Emerald Eye. When Nicholas and his family are captured by the Bolsheviks, Pekkala becomes prisoner 4745-P and is sent to the Siberian gulag. A decade later, in the midst of the Great Terror, Pekkala is released because Stalin needs to know exactly what happened to the Romanov family. There is much to like about Eye of the Red Tsar, the first in a planned series. The stoic Pekkala is a bit enigmatic but is shown to be intelligent, courageous, and dogged; Eastland will no doubt reveal more about him in future books. The sense of place and period is well rendered. Stalin's Russia assuredly offers a surfeit of future plotlines, and Eastland appears to have done considerable research into the period. But Stalin, whom Pekkala encounters twice—in 1917 and 1929—is portrayed not as a monster but as soft spoken and thoughtful, a stunning departure from historical consensus. That said, readers should look forward to Pekkala's next investigation. --Thomas Gaughan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (January 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553593234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553593235
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Superb series, I look forward to reading all the books therein.
Joseph H. Wolff
Not to mention there is a major plotting problem that make the whole book fall apart toward the back end of the book.
The characters were well developed and mysterious enough to keep you reading.
P. Eisenman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Sandy Kay VINE VOICE on March 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I enjoyed this book very much. I would have given it 5 stars but for one plot point that I could not believe (later on that - but no spoilers). But even with that, I would definitely read the next book in what I assume will become a series of Inspector Pekkala books (the next book comes out in 2011).

The main character is Pekkala. At the beginning of the book he is a prisoner in a Soviet labor camp assigned to mark trees for cutting; he has been there for nine years since the Tsar's abdication. A young political officer (Kirov) comes to request his assistance in an investigation because Pekkala is a special prisoner: he was the Tsar's legendary special investigator. Pekkala, along with Kirov and Pekkala's estranged older brother Anton, is charged with investigating the murder of Tsar Nicholas and his family. He has a strong moral code without being a wimpy or goody-goody character and that makes him a very interesting character.

There are a lot of books written about the deaths of the Romanovs. If you have a particular interest in or have studied the subject (I have not), you may have to give the author a fair amount of artistic license because the point of the book is Pekkala's character and his investigation, not to be a novelization of historical facts. One thing marred my complete enjoyment of the book. Pekkala makes a mistake (I won't say what or where in the book because it would spoil it) that is completely at odds with everything that has been written about him in the rest of the book. Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable historical thriller. It will be interesting to see what investigations Pekkala does in future books.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Lael Prock on May 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Other reviewers have mentioned the my main problem with this book so I won't consider it a spoiler alert. This book certainly started out well but gradually fell apart. It would have been an okay mystery read except for one thing, but it was a major thing and totally ruined the book for me. Pekkala was suppose to be this master investigator with a extraodinary memory. Yet, he is unable to istantly discern that the man who appears towards the end of the book is not the assassin Grodek who he help train and knew well and had even captured him after an attempt on the Tsar's life. Instead he instantly decided that this was Alexei the son of the Tsar, a young man that Pekkella was intimately familiar with. To me that plot line is very unrealistic, even silly and eventually the whole book becomes totally unsatisfying. There were a few other story threads and ploys that were improbably at best. Stalin spending time with Pekkella twice. The photographer being brought to the scene of the killing of the Tsar and his family just moments before they are killed and allowed to escape with his life. (So he could provide Pekkella with information for his investigation) It was clear that the book was the clue to the Tsar's riches but it seem to blow right over Pekkella the master investigator.

In my personal opinion this book cannot be compared with Martin Cruz Smith's series about Arkady Renko which I also read.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sam Eastland has scored an impressive triumph in his first novel, Eye of the Red Tsar. I'm a big Romanov-fan, and Eye of the Red Tsar provided me with a periodic fix. Eastland mixes history with fiction to great effect. However, in order to enjoy this book, you have to keep in mind that this is a work of fiction. The murder of the royal family as Eastland writes it is not how we know it to have happened.

Opening in 1929, Pekkala finds himself a prisoner in Siberia. He has served 9 years of a 30 year sentence for Crimes Against the State. Pekkala was once the Emerald Eye, the personal investigator of Tsar Nicholas II. He was the only man that Nicholas II trusted. But after the Revolution, he finds himself living a solitary existence, marking trees for cutting. Most men don't live out the year. But Pekkala's survival is a testament to his mental and physical toughness. Commissar Kirov is sent to bring Pekkala back as the communist government has a job for him. The government wishes to discover what really happened to the Romanovs. There is also a possibility that at least one of them is still alive. More likely, they're also interested in what may have happened to the Romanov treasure. Kirov offers Pekkala his freedom at the end of the job, so the former investigator reluctantly signs on.

It doesn't take Pekkala long to get back into the routine of investigation. He seeks out clues, interviews witnesses, and tries to discover what happened to the royal family. But whoever had a hand in their murder is still trying to remain underground. Some witnesses to that fateful night in Ekaterinburg are still in danger. As Pekkala starts digging, his life is also threatened.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Karen S. Garvin on July 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I would not call this book a suspense story or a thriller. Instead, it is a historical mystery. That isn't a negative, but if you are expecting a thrill ride you may be disappointed. If you want a steady-paced read that keeps your curiosity, then this book may be for you.

The story opens with a Pekkala, a prisoner of the Soviet prison system. He has been put out in the forests to mark trees for other prisoners to cut down. In virtual isolation, Pekkala has kept himself alive longer than other prisoners have survived out in the woods. Soon, an officer comes to summon Pekkala for help.

In his former life, Pekkala was a detective, working for the Russian tsar, Nicholai Romanov. Now, 10 years after the brutal murder of the entire Romanov family, Pekkala is asked to investigate their deaths and find their real killer. And, he is asked to follow up on rumors that one or more of the family may still be alive. I won't give away any plot spoilers, except to let you know that other than the Tsar, Stalin is one of the characters in the book.

Eastland's pacing for the story is comfortable. Instead of chapters, there are breaks in the text, with the storyline alternating between current events and events from Pekkala's past. The author cleverly uses these flashbacks to give us background and insight on the main characters without giving the reader a "data dump." This keeps the story moving forward at a steady pace.

I gave the book only 4 stars because I found myself still somewhat distant from the main character at the end of the book. Usually by the half or three-quarter mark I want to be wound up in the protagonist's thoughts or feelings so much that I'm rooting for him or her. I didn't dislike Pekkala, but after 250+ pages he's still a mystery to me. Perhaps that's a good thing, since the author is working on a second novel.
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