RED ICON By Sam Eastland. Faber. $29.99.
In early 1945 two Russian soldiers stumble across a priceless Romanov icon in a ruined crypt. The icon was last seen in the possession of the mad monk Rasputin. Reputed to have magical powers, the icon was revered by a radical religious group thought to have been hunted to extinction. Concerned that the group may be on the rise again, Stalin dispatches his most trusted investigator, Inspector Pekkala, to unravel the icon’s secrets.
This is the fifth entry in the Pekkala series and, once again, Eastland provides a fascinating insight into Russian history. The frequent flashbacks to the 1920s and the numerous diversions slow the pace occasionally, but overall this is an entertaining and interesting thriller.
THE CELLAR By Minette Walters. Hammer. $29.99.
Minette Walters continues her fascination with the dark side of the human psyche with this chilling novella about a young orphaned girl, Muna, who is brought illegally to England and forced to work as a virtual slave for a relatively wealthy family. Having endured terrible treatment, she finds her fortunes changing when her captors’ son goes missing and she gets her opportunity to take revenge on her abusers.
This short tale lacks the narrative and emotional complexity we have come to expect from Walters, but it unfolds at a good rate and there are some interesting developments and surprises and a touch of the supernatural. A good read for a gloomy Canberra afternoon.
THE SLAUGHTER MAN By Tony Parsons. Century. $32.99.
Tony Parsons’ The Murder Bag was an impressive first foray into crime fiction. His second book about London Homicide Detective Max Wolfe is even better.
On New Year’s Day four members of a wealthy family are wiped out in a brutal slaying and their four-year-old son is spirited away by the murderer. The unusual murder weapon, a gun used to stun cattle before they are butchered, leads Wolfe to a dusty corner of Scotland Yard’s Black Museum and a killer who, 30 years ago, was known as the Slaughter Man.
Fast paced with plenty of twists and some nicely realised characters and locations, this is a first-rate detective novel. Recommended.
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