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Monday 13 February 2023

‘Black Wolf’ by Kathleen Kent

Published by Head of Zeus Ltd,
16 February 2023.
ISBN 978-1-80454788-5 (HB)

Melvina Donleavy has the secret skill of forever remembering a face. She has been sent on her first under cover mission for the CIA. Along with Dan Hatton, Julie Reznik and Ben Franklin all CIA, Mel’s mission in 1990 is to go to Byelorussia (now Belarus), to find out what threats this new republic, made after the fall of the Berlin Wall, might pose. There certainly are plenty as they discover.

Their cover story is that the United States State Department is considering offering American financial support to the new Sovereign Republic. Unknown to the others, Mel also has to report back on them. They have all been warned that their every move will be monitored. It therefore comes as no surprise to Mel to note a large two-way mirror in her room and realises she must be extra careful. The hotel itself leaves a lot to be desired and is very basic, much like Minsk itself.

They all meet up with a Doctor William Cutler who they will pass all their information on to. Only he is aware of the fact that it is hoped Mel will be able to recognise three men from Tehran after being shown their photographs. They are after nuclear weaponry resulting from the falling apart of the Soviet Union. For this, Iran would pay back vast sums of money.

Amidst all this subterfuge we learn of a serial killer nicknamed the Svisloch Strangler. It is thought he is responsible for the deaths of over twenty women. He buries them in the forest and grows mushrooms on their graves, taking great delight in creating recipes from the fungi.

Through a young receptionist, Mel learns all about the strangler. She is unsure whether to believe her or not but when her body is found floating in the river, Mel is suspicious and starts looking into the rumours.

In Byelorussia it is not accepted that there is such a thing as a serial killer, the crimes are all dealt with separately. Head of the KGB Martin Kavalchuk (known as Black Wolf) has Mel brought in for questioning. She is terrified at the thought, but it appears he mainly wants to know what she has found out about the Strangler. However, does he have something else in mind?

We then learn that the serial killer has a fixation about Mel. Will she be his next victim? Events certainly seem to be heading in that direction.

An outstanding account of Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The author’s note tells us she has first-hand knowledge of Russia at this time and it certainly comes across in the narration of this thoroughly absorbing and highly recommended book.

Reviewer Tricia Chappell

Kathleen Kent is the author of two best-selling novels, The Heretic's Daughter, for which she received the David J. Langum Sr. award for American Historical Fiction, and The Traitor's Wife (published in hardcover as The Wolves of Andover). Her most recent historical fiction novel, The Outcasts, was awarded the American Library Association’s “Top Pick” Historical Fiction in 2014 as well as being the recipient of a Will Rogers Medallion award for Western fiction. She has completed her fourth novel, The Dime, based on a short story published in the crime anthology Dallas Noir.  Her novels are collectively published in 16 countries.

Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.

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