February 21, 2012
The Holy Thief by William Ryan
Called in to investigate the death of a woman found in a former church, Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev is suspicious. Why are the higher ups so interested? What aren’t they telling him?
In the early days of Soviet Russia, its a toss up. Is it more dangerous to know what’s going on or to be somewhat clueless? Either one can get you sent to the Zone (Siberia) especially with an investigation that involves both the remnants of the Russian Orthodox Church, now illegal, and the underground culture of Russian thieves.
First of all, this is an adult book but it is one that I think a lot of teens would enjoy. They probably won’t identify with Korolev’s position as a divorced man but they will sympathize with his frustrations as superiors keep him in the dark yet expect him to do his job to their satisfaction.
Even in 1936, its obvious that the Soviet experiment is not a thriving success. Comments are made about what Soviet goods will be like “one day” although at the time of the story, the dead woman is easily identified as American because of her quality clothing and haircut. Very few Soviet women would be lucky enough to have their equal.
It is also a world where the NKVD, The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, more commonly known as the Secret Police, have quotas the same as factory workers. This means that if not enough people are denounced by their friends, neighbors and coworkers for secretly practicing a religion or speaking out against the Soviet Union, you might get arrested anyway. There are, after all, cells to fill.
Very little content would be inappropriate for younger readers although the book probably would not interest them. There are references to rape and some torture and autopsies take place “on screen” but none of the descriptions are particularly explicit.
This would be a good choice for older boys with an interest in other cultures, history, war and mysteries.