Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review of The Twelfth Department by William Ryan (Mantle, 2013)

Moscow, 1937, Captain Korolev, a divorced detective with the local militia is looking forward to spending a week with his young son, who is visiting him for the first time in a while.  He’s barely met Yuri off the train when he’s asked to investigate the death of an important scientist, shot in the back of the head in his exclusive apartment near to the Kremlin.  The scientist has managed to rise up the greasy pole to attain his own research institute through a mix of promising results from dubious science and denouncing colleagues.  Korolev knows the case is a poisoned chalice given the interest of a colonel in the Twelfth Department of the NKVD and he’s relieved when it’s taken away from him.  His respite is short-lived, however.  Not only is he directed back to the case, but he becomes a pawn between two sparring NKVD departments and Yuri disappears.  The challenge is to solve the case whilst negotiating a booby-trapped tightrope in a country where failure has dire consequences and to save his son.  No easy task, but at least he’s armed with tact and guile, and has the support of friends and enemies, all of whom may share his fate if he fails.

The Twelfth Department is the third instalment in Korolev series and sees the detective back in his native Moscow after his excursion to the Ukraine in his last outing.  Ryan does an admirable job of recreating the tension and paranoia of pre-war Russia, and the ways in which ordinary people try to survive and get by in the system.  Korolev is canny, street-wise and willing to take a risk, but he isn’t corrupt nor anti-establishment, instead trying to be a good citizen and comrade in a regime that oppresses many.  Given his job, he is tested often, and in The Twelfth Department Ryan provides a nice conumdrum to solve both in terms of the case and in surviving being a pawn in a game between NKVD departments.  Indeed, this is a well-paced, plot-driven story, and whilst the characters are nicely penned, they are caught in the moment of the story and the reader learns little of their back story or wider situation and it would be interesting to learn a little more about Korolev and his colleagues in the next book.  In compensation, there is a strong sense of place, good contextualisation, and vivid atmosphere.  Overall, an enjoyable read and solid addition to what is shaping up to be a very good series. 

I was fortunate enough to be send an advance copy by the publisher and The Twelfth Department is not published until May, so you have plenty of time to get your advanced order in.


1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - I am very much excited about this release. I liked the first two novels in this series very much and it's good to hear that this one lives up to the promise of the first two. Thanks for the fine review.