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The Holy Thief: A Novel (Captain Alexei Korolev Novels) Paperback – November 22, 2011
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"Without a doubt, The Holy Thief is one of the best historical mysteries I've read in the last ten years.” ―David Liss
“One of the year's most exciting [debuts] . . . While the search for Russian icons will bring to mind Martin Cruz Smith's brilliant Gorky Park, Ryan puts a fresh, original spin on the briskly paced The Holy Thief.” ―Oline H. Cogdill, Sun-Sentinel
"Impressive.... Ryan, who merits comparison to Tom Rob Smith, makes palpable the perpetual state of fear of being reported as disloyal, besides dramatizing the difficulty of being an honest cop in a repressive police state. Readers will hope Korolev has a long career ahead of him.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Watch out, Martin Cruz Smith, there's a new kid on the block and he's really good. William Ryan's debut opus, The Holy Thief, set it Moscow in 1936, stars Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev, a detective in the Moscow Militia who might eventually give Arkady Renko a run for his rubles…Flawlessly narrated, as expected, by Simon Vance.” ―BookPage
“A powerful first novel by British author William Ryan that I certainly hope will not be his last.” ―Winston-Salem Journal on the audio edition of The Holy Thief
“The drama, excitement, intrigue, and fear are portrayed with authenticity and emotion.” ―SoundCommentary.com"
“In his solitude and resolve, Ryan's Korolev evokes Martin Cruz Smith's fierce Arkady Renko, while the period detail and gore call to mind Tom Rob Smith. Remarkable thriller...” ―Library Journal (starred review)
“A subtle, superb mystery, a wonderful central character and with a sense of place and period to rival even the greatest of the Russian masters. More please!” ―Kate Mosse, author of Sepulchre
“With The Holy Thief, Ryan establishes himself as a fresh voice, rendering the snow-slicked streets of Thirties' Moscow with brilliant clarity. His picture of Captain Korolev as a conflicted, yet loyal, state servant is acutely real, as is his world, slouching toward terror and war. A masterful evocation of a dark time, wrapped around an even darker mystery, The Holy Thief does its magic on the head as well as the nerves.” ―Olen Steinhauer, author of The Nearest Exit
“A powerhouse debut, intricately plotted, tautly written, richly imagined. With effortless, page-turning ease Ryan leads us into the mirror-world of 1930s Stalinist Russia where nothing is quite what it seems and no one is quite who they claim to be. For Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia, the price of failure is a bullet through the head--and so is the price of success. Thrilling.” ―Paul Sussman, author of The Hidden Oasis
“A first-rate crime novel: a genuinely memorable detective, powerful story and a seamlessly convincing setting. William Ryan is the real thing.” ―A. L. Kennedy, author of Day
“The Holy Thief is an utterly compelling and beautifully lucid novel, in which murder, history and suspicion combine to create an atmosphere of ever-increasing and constantly shifting suspense.” ―John Burnside, author of The Glister"
About the Author
WILLIAM RYAN was born in London in 1965 and attended Trinity College, Dublin. He practiced briefly as a barrister before completing his Masters in Creative Writing at St Andrews University. His work has appeared in the short story collection, Cool Britannia. He lives in London with his wife. The Holy Thief is his first novel.
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However, Ryan’s new contribution is set not in the 1950s, the 80s, or more recently, as are those of the two Smiths, but in the 1930s during the peak of Stalin’s wide-ranging purges of the Communist Party and the military. It’s unusual for a novel to include a list of sources, but The Holy Thief ends with a long one, testament to the thoroughness with which Ryan approached his subject. The picture that emerges is much darker than those painted by the two Smiths — which is only natural, since untold millions died on Stalin’s orders in the 1930s.
What’s most distinctive, and most rewarding, about this engrossing novel is the adroit way Ryan conveys a sense of the pervasive paranoia fostered by Stalin’s reign of terror. The abject poverty of the USSR comes through clearly as well. Yet all of this is shrugged off by all but a handful of freethinkers. Virtually everyone else is convinced that the Soviet system will triumph under the brilliant leadership of Josef Stalin and all will be well in a future Communist state. Judging from the popularity of Vladimir Putin in today’s Russia, it’s not hard to believe the acceptance of Stalin’s lies. Putin doesn’t have on his hands the blood of millions, and his government falls short of totalitarianism, but the kleptocracy over which he presides matches the scale of Stalin’s regime.
The story is complex. It’s 1936. A young woman turns up the victim of a gruesome murder in one of the few churches left standing in Moscow. Detective Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev of the Moscow Militia’s Criminal Investigation Division is called to the scene. (The Militia, the Soviet counterpart to Scotland Yard, is the junior partner to the much-feared NKVD — predecessor to the KGB — within the state security apparatus.) Shortly after undertaking his investigation into the baffling crime, Korolev is approached by a Colonel Gregorin, one of the most senior officers in the NKVD. Gregorin volunteers the information that the murdered woman is of Russian birth but American citizenship. She is an Orthodox nun, Gregorin explains. It soon transpires that the nun was apparently part of a conspiracy to steal a highly prized icon and spirit it away to the US, safe from the predations of the Soviet government. Then a second murder victim, a Thief, surfaces at a soccer stadium, clearly butchered by the same person. (The Thieves are a tightly knit network of murderers, rapists, and other violent criminals who essentially run the prisons in the Gulag and lord it over lesser underworld figures in Russia’s cities.) Somehow, the two murders are connected — and Korolev must figure out how.
The Holy Thief is suspenseful and full of surprises. Any fan of crime novels, detective fiction, or thrillers — or, for that matter, historical fiction — will likely find this book rewarding.
This isn't an easy read, but it might be an educational one - and it was definitely one that will stay with me for some time to come. If you like mysteries with twists (that you suspect might be there, but are never sure till the end), an honest policeman with enough integrity to try to do his job under dangerous and uncertain circumstances, and an ending that makes you hope for more to come; this is probably a book you will want to read. As an added bonus, you will probably learn something about the Soviet Union under Stalin and the difficulty of being a citizen in a country trying for a utopian ideal.
Worth the money and time on multiple levels, a good read, but not an easy one.
I liked the main character but the story dragged out too long to get to the good parts. It didn't have enough action, but was very detailed in the historical Russia of that time.
Alexei Korolev, while a likeable character, did not have the grit of Pekkala and I just guess I expected too much from this book that it was not able to deliver. I would recommend it for people interested in Pre-WWII Russia and of mysteries, however, I would caution Pekkala readers not to buy it as you will be disappointed.
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A well worked out list of characters and a chilling plot makes this first "Captain Alexei...Read more