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Volk's Game Audible – Unabridged

4.0 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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By L. J. Roberts VINE VOICE on July 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
First Sentence: "What do you know about art, Volk?"

Alexei Volkovoy, "Volk," must balance between to masters; Maxim, a Russia mafia kingpin, and The General, to whom Volk is indebted. They command Volk to steal a painting newly found behind another in the basement of the Hermitage. But the theft quickly goes bad. Men are killed, Volk's lover kidnapped and being tortured. Still Volk must retrieve the painting before they kill his lover.

Ghelfi draws a picture of Russia and Red Square that has changed my way of looking at those areas. Alexei Volkovoy, "Volk," is an interesting protagonist. Ghelfi has also done an excellent job in creating Volk, making him a fully-developed character in spite of brutal nature of the story. Volk may not have many scruples, but he does have them. Volk, and his ladyfriend, Valya, are what life, war and survival have made them. The story is unrelentingly dark and does include torture of women but the characters are not nice, law-abiding people. This is not a pleasant book, but it is a good one and I'm not sorry to have read it.
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Format: Hardcover
With the notable exception of Frederick Forsyth, whose books The Odessa File and The Day of the Jackal are masterpieces of the genre, I rarely read thrillers. However, the present-day Russian setting of this debut intrigued me just enough to pick it up when I needed a change of pace in my reading. Although the post-Soviet "new Russia" is more than ten years old now, it's maintained a "wild west" reputation that makes it a fertile setting for outsized action and characters like those found in this debut.

Volk (meaning "wolf" in Russian) is Alexei Volkovoy, once an orphaned child growing up in Cold War-era Russia, then a special forces sniper for the Russian Army in Chechnya, now a shady underworld figure in Moscow. His game is all manner of vice (except child prostitution, he's got a strict age limit of 14...) as well as some high-level art thievery on behalf of a shadowy master named "The General." It is the latter element which propels the plot, as Volk is directed to procure a long-lost Da Vinci painting from the catacombs of the Hermitage where it has lain hidden alongside other booty from the Red Army's march to Berlin half a century earlier. If this sounds fairly straightforward, it's quickly complicated by Maxim, a ruthless Azeri mafioso who dominates Moscow's organized crime. Maxim also wants the painting, and seems to have and eyes and ears everywhere.

Of course there are tons of twists, turns, and betrayals of all kinds, along with plenty of fisticuffs, gunplay, and other violence. The latter elements are worth noting, as the book gets pretty gruesome in several torture scenes and flashbacks to scenes from Volk's years in Chechnya (where he lost a leg). I'm not a particularly squeamish reader, but some of the interrogation scenes were unpleasantly vivid.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a cool thriller -- an action-packed story in an exotic setting with compelling characters. But it is way more than that too. The writing is so good it almost transcends the genre. The author's insights about good and evil in this contradictory "post-postmodern" world are powerful and thought provoking. This novel is almost literary in its ambition to reveal what it means to be human, even in a place and time where just about everything and everyone works to strip humanity away.

And Ghelfi's way with language is hypnotic. Corruption of the soul and human degradation has rarely been so evocatively, even lyrically described. So when reading Volk's Game, you find yourself in the middle of a fast moving page turner, anxious to find out what happens next, but at the same time you want to slow down and linger with each vivid paragraph. It's like stopping for a quick bite at a dingy eatery in the concourse of a faraway airport and discovering a four-star quality meal. To extend the analogy, this novel is a juicy, blood red filet mignon, a carafe of hearty Bordeaux, and a dark (very dark) chocolate soufflé dripping with gooey raspberry sauce. It is so richly rewarding you don't mind taking your time. You can always catch a later flight -- rarely do you get to savor an edifying guilty pleasure like this.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fast and thrilling tale of drugs, sex, murder and mayhem. If you like action with intelligence thrown in, then this is for you. Volk is not only tough, he's also smart and a little sadisitic as well, just what this book calls for. Can't wait for his next rampage!
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Format: Hardcover
This debut novel set in modern-day Russia is a lot of things. It's a bit formulaic, filled with a lot of characters whose sole purpose is to die violently, provides glimpses into the most vile precincts of organized crime, has its share of cliches, and introduces an almost indestructible (I'm not kidding here. Think The Terminator.) main character. But for all of that, I found it immensely readable. The Chechnyan war and its attendant brutality, rarely reported in the West save for Beslan level atrocities, is a brilliant choice for Alexei Volkonoy's battlefield. The effect of such warfare on the Soviet soldiers there might well produce a Volk or two in the new Russia.

The oomparisons to Forsyth may be valid, but I am more reminded of Andrew Vacchs' "Burke" novels. Same type hero: brutal and merciless when required but basically a decent man, albeit wounded physically and mentally, in a dark world dispensing street justice. Rather like the Punisher in the graphic novels. Ultimately, Volk is a pawn, but a deadly one and one who lives and is willing to die for his personal code of honor.

A couple of minor complaints: would a Russian talk about something being "catty cornered" instead of the Soviet equivalent? And Volk a colonel? For some reason authors love that rank but given Volk's background and age, Captain, if he were an officer at all and not a senior NCO, would have been more appropriate.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I'm looking forward to the next one, although I have to say that this initial outing will be hard to beat! I trust it has been optioned for the movies; done properly with the right casting, it could be a box office winner. But don't wait. Read this now.
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