A book blog about Russia in English-language fiction

Tag: Peter the Great

To the Hermitage by Malcolm Bradbury (2000)

To the Hermitage tells parallel tales of men who travelled to St Petersburg. Both are fictionalised versions of actual journeys.

One being that of Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, who visited his patron, and Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, in 1773.

The other being the anonymous narrator of To the Hermitage, a version of Bradbury himself —English academic and author— making his way to St Petersburg as a member of a distinguished study group, the Diderot Project, in October 1993.

The very temporal settings speak of the novel’s parallelism.

Russia then as now was in trouble, tugged as it ever has been between east and west.

To the Hermitage, chapter 21
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The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming (2011)

‘Nobody knows more about Russia than you’ (p. 33). So Dr Sam Gaddis, the hero of Charles Cumming’s fifth novel, is told.

Part-way through The Trinity Six, Russia in Fiction was less impressed with Gaddis, being more inclined along the lines of

‘Blimey – Dr Sam Gaddis gives academics a bad name. He is so slow, as if he’s never read a thriller in his life. Every coincidence that happens, he accepts unquestioningly. He completely fails to read the situation.’

Happily Gaddis improved, and with him the novel, which is a relatively complex example of the ‘secrets from history which must never come to light’ genre.

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Motherland by G.D. Abson (2017)

G. D. (Garry) Abson’s first book is a cracking crime novel, set in contemporary St Petersburg and shaped around the character of a maverick female detective, Natalya Ivanova.

In Abson’s portrayal of Russia, for ‘maverick’, read ‘not corrupt’. Ivanova’s efforts to solve crime —in this case the disappearance of a young woman— are hindered as much by obstructive, careerist, regime-loyal colleagues as they are by the normal stuff such as lack of evidence and the deceptive nature of the criminal class.

One strap-line we have seen used for Motherland goes like this.

‘Natalya Ivanova does for St Petersburg what Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko did for Soviet-era Moscow.’

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Moscow 5000 by David Grant (1979)

The Moscow Olympics of 1980 presented a setting for thriller writers that was too good to miss. Especially if they timed it right and got their book in the shops ahead of the Games.

Russia in Fiction has already reviewed one such book (John Salisbury’s 1980 novel Moscow Gold). David Grant beat Salisbury to the tape, with Moscow 5000 being published in 1979.

Well, we say David Grant. In reality, Moscow 5000’s author was renowned British thriller writer Craig Thomas (1942-2011), writing under a pseudonym. And the novel’s skilfully complex plot betrays that it is not written by a novice; with four strong and interlinked story lines coming to their conclusion in the running of the men’s 5000 metres final in the XXII Olympiad in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in 1980.

From the Russia-in-fiction angle, two of these plot strands are notable; particularly so the Ukrainian nationalist one.

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Red Army by Ralph Peters (1989) – part two

Part one of this review is here

Red Army tells the story of an imagined Soviet invasion of western Europe in the 1980s, and tells it entirely from the point of view of Soviet troops. This is no Clancy-esque overview of grand strategy and political manouevres, although Peters does, like Tom Clancy, tell his story through a select series of individuals.

That all of these individuals are in the Soviet armed forces is grist to the Russia-in-fiction mill.

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