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Published by Mirror Books, 28 November 2019, ISBN (HB): 978-1-912624-53-9.
In the forests north-east of St Petersburg (founded by
Tsar Peter the Great and renamed Leningrad during the Soviet period before
reverting to its original name) are buried more than 30,000 men, women,
children, murdered during Stalin’s reign of terror. It is to this area that Captain
Natalya Ivanovna and Sergeant Rogov of the Criminal Investigations Directorate come
following reports that a young woman’s body has been found in the ditch by the
road that leads through the area. There are no visible signs of injury or
sexual assault. They know her name: Elizaveta Kalinina and when Expert
Criminalist Leo Primakov arrives on the scene he is able to confirm what
Natalya has suspected – that she died elsewhere and her body had been
transported to the ditch after death. Natalya’s boss, Lieutenant General
Dostoynov, leaves it to Natalya to perform the distressing task of informing
Elizaveta’s mother but when she calls on her and Elizaveta’s two-year-old son
to tell them the news she is interrupted
by the arrival of two officers from Sledkom
or Sledstvennyi Komitet, the
Investigative Committee, the Russian version of the FBI, who tell her that she
is to be taken off the case. Natalya learns that the reason for this is that
Elizaveta is a member of the Decembrists, a protest group which has taken the
name of a revolutionary group from the time of the Tsars but which now confines
itself to activities publicly mocking the Putin regime as do the real-life art
anarchist collective Voina and the girls of Pussy Riot. There is not a lot that
Natalya can do about this, so she has to face the prospect of Christmas on her
own since Dostoynov has sent her husband Mikhail off to Siberia to deal with
some cold cases. But then another Decembrist contacts her: Vita, who tells
Natalya that her twin brother Max, also a Decembrist, is missing and she wants
Natalya to find out what has happened to him. This could put Natalya’s career
at risk; nonetheless she agrees to investigate unofficially. And this leads her
into a snake-pit of lies and corruption and danger at the highest level, the
more so because Putin’s re-election campaign is in full swing and, although the
result is in no doubt, there are those who do not relish any adverse publicity.
Even Mikhail is at risk, not to mention Anton, Mikhail’s son by his first
marriage, who has taken rather a shine to Vita.
This is the second in
this author’s series featuring Senior Detective Natalya Ivanovna in what the
publishers describe as ‘the dark heart of Putin’s Russia’ and which powerfully
evokes that country’s corruption, criminality and violent revenge. (The first, Motherland, was published in 2018, also
by Mirror Books, ISBN : 978-1-907324-83-3). Natalya, with her steely determination
to get to the truth of the crimes she investigates, is very much in the mould
of today’s fictional female sleuths.
Abson was born in
County Durham and grew up on army bases in Germany and Singapore before
returning to the North-East. He is the author of Motherland, the first in a
series featuring Senior Investigator Natalya Ivanova, and was shortlisted for a
Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger.
born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven
years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice.
Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional
work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of
her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published
late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal
flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a
third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology –
and is now concentrating on her own writing.