A book blog about Russia in English-language fiction

Tag: Nelson DeMille

The Kremlin Contract by James Barwick (1987)

Way before the death of Stalin became the title of a graphic novel which then in 2017 became a comic movie, banned in Russia, the actual passing of the Communist dictator in March 1953 provided the plot for several thrillers written by British writers.

The novel reviewed before this one —Robert Harris’s Archangel (1998)— begins on the day of Stalin’s death. John Kruse’s Red Omega (1981) develops the fictional notion that Stalin was assassinated. Barnaby Williams’s Revolution (1994) has Stalin suffocated by his Politburo subordinates.

The Kremlin Contract similarly has the theme of Stalin being assassinated. And almost all of its characters, on both sides of the Cold War divide, want him dead.

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The Starlings of Bucharest by Sarah Armstrong (2021)

Hey, this is the Russia in Fiction blog — what’s with The Starlings of Bucharest? Have we gone all Romania in Fiction? Now that would be a struggle to get to our 100 reviews …

Well, rest easy. The Starlings of Bucharest is book two in the Moscow Wolves trilogy; at least, we assume it is going to be a trilogy. As regular readers of this blog know, pre-announced Russia-in-fiction trilogies are very much in vogue these days. See reviews of novels by Tom Bradby, Owen Matthews, and Ben Creed for further evidence.

Its title not-withstanding, The Starlings of Bucharest has many chapters set in Moscow. It is a terrific semi-sequel to the enjoyable The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt.

What do we mean by semi-sequel?

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Private Moscow by James Patterson and Adam Hamdy (2020)

Sometimes —and may be more often than usual in the middle of a pandemic-inflicted lockdown— a bit of escapism is just the ticket.

Step forward, James Patterson ‘the most borrowed author in UK libraries for the past thirteen years in a row’, and author of, well, who knows? 120? 130 novels? Several a year, mostly with co-authors.

Private Moscow is the 15th in the Private series about an élite detective agency with branches around the world, founded and led by all-action American hero Jack Morgan. From cover through to final page, it gathers in the Russia-in-fiction thriller clichés in a fast-moving action movie-style plot. But there is more to Private Moscow than that.

I stayed up into the small hours to finish it …

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A Quiet End by Nelson DeMille (2015)

(published in the US as Radiant Angel)

If you know thrillers, you will know the name of Nelson DeMille. He is one of those guaranteed bestsellers. He doesn’t write about Russia most of the time, but he has done occasionally both before and since the Soviet era.

The Charm School (1988) is a classic, with its scenes in the Soviet Union and its plot feature of KGB agents trained in a special area in Russia set up to simulate life in small-town USA. The Talbot Odyssey (1984), about Soviet agents in the CIA, is pretty good too. And DeMille’s non-Russian oeuvre is also above average in the thriller stakes —for example, from what I’ve read, The General’s Daughter (1992) and Word of Honour (1985).

A Quiet End comes decades later on from these best-sellers, and it shows in plot and style.

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Confessional by Jack Higgins (1985)

Jack Higgins is a successful and prolific thriller writer. Most known for his bestselling The Eagle Has Landed (1975), he is the author of over 80 novels since his first in 1959.

Somehow having never read Higgins, I picked up Confessional because I was aware of his standing, wanted to read something by him, but also wanted to feed my ‘Russia in fiction’ predilection.

And from the Russia-in-fiction perspective it was a bit of a treat to come straight in, chapter one, to the intriguing notion of the “live like it’s the West” spy school.

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The Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz Smith (2019)

The Siberian Dilemma is the ninth of Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels, published nearly 40 years after the classic first in the series, Gorky Park (1981). Like the other more recent Renko novels, at least since Stalin’s Ghost (2007), The Siberian Dilemma is a relatively short, snappily written work.

It set me musing on two things in particular. It made me wonder what lies behind the shift amongst a number of long-established thriller writers from long and detailed to short and snappy? And, for entirely personal reasons, it reminded me of a meeting with the leader of the Russian Communist Party.

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