Book Review: Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland

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I bor­rowed this book from the local library.

Book Review Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland

There is some­thing about the Romanov’s which has always been light­ing up people’s imag­i­na­tions, whether it’s the rumors about their death (helped immensely by mis­in­for­ma­tion from the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment), or the enor­mous wealth sym­bol­ized by the fab­u­lous Faberge eggs or the leg­ends of the sur­vival of Princess Anastasia.
In “Eye of the Red Tsar”, a fic­tional tale with his­tor­i­cal accu­racy, author Sam East­land intro­duced his audi­ence to the Tsar’s per­sonal detec­tive Inspec­tor Pekkala. We first meet Pekkala in exile at the harsh forests of Sebria, where he works in the gulag as a tree marker.  Pekkala has survied this pun­ish­ing task for almost a decade, shat­ter­ing the record for a job that most peo­ple last in a few months before dying.
A young offi­cer, Com­mis­sar Kirov, arrives one evening to take Pekkala back to civ­i­liza­tion in order to solve the mys­tery of the Roman­vos’ death.  The story jux­ta­pose between the pre-revolution days, in the form of flash­backs, and the inves­ti­ga­tion.  Join­ing Pekkala and Kirov is Anton, Pekkala’s brother, who is an offi­cer in the Red Army – but there is no broth­erly love lost in that relationship.
As it turned out, Pekkala’s older brother was marked for the élite Tsar’s Finnish reg­i­ment ( Fin­land was a Russ­ian colony) while Pekkala was marked to take over their father’s under­taker busi­ness.  Once Anton was kicked out of the élite unit, the father sent Pekkala to take his place which is where he meets Tsar Nicholas who spots his tal­ent, keen mind and pho­to­graphic mem­ory.  Tsar Nicholas pro­ceeds to take young Pekkala under his wing and bestows upon him the title “The Emer­ald Eye, the Tsar’s per­sonal detec­tive — : "a man who could not be threat­ened or beaten or cor­rupted into sur­ren­der­ing his sense of what was right or wrong".   Pekkala and the Tsar become friends, their rela­tion­ship blos­soms until the bit­ter end – which is where Inspec­tor Pekkala must start his investigation.
Com­ing out of exile, Pekkala soon real­izes that he is a liv­ing leg­end to sup­port­ers of the Tsar and a boogey­man to the Tsar’s ene­mies.  The old joke of “I thought you were dead / didn't exist” comes up sev­eral times dur­ing the novel. The lies and decep­tion are end­less; the sad and tragic events of the down­fall of the Romanovs are por­trayed very pow­er­fully.  There is a gloomy feel­ing all through­out the novel, hope­less­ness, sad­ness and reflec­tion on past events.
The novel is engross­ing but too sim­plis­tic.  Pekkala has almost super­hu­man abil­i­ties.  He is incor­rupt­ible, loyal to death, a sur­vivor and a pho­to­graphic mem­ory to boot.  Tsar Nicholas is por­trayed as a kindly uncle, which given what we know is a bit hard to swal­low and I had trou­ble believ­ing in it.
I also wished there was more about Pekkala's father.  Even though we know the father was in awe of the Tsar, and plays a very strate­gic and impor­tant role by push­ing his sons to join­ing the Finnish reg­i­ment, there is no men­tion of him after that.  Besides a device to explain the bit­ter­ness between the broth­ers, it would have been nice to find out what the father thinks of his son’s exclu­sive role within the royal fam­ily as the Tsar’s con­fi­dent – but we never got to do so.
There is some attempt at a cliché love story, but Sam East­land did well to stay away from it as far he could – maybe as prepa­ra­tions for another book in the series.  Frankly, the short attempt at the romance angle wasn’t very inter­est­ing and could have been sim­ply avoided even though it might have been writ­ten to human­ize Pekkala.
Yet, “Eye of the Red Tsar” is an enjoy­able mys­tery, and a quick read at that. The best parts are the alter­nate flash­backs where the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion is much bet­ter.  The book is well writ­ten, com­pe­tent and kept my atten­tion through­out even though the plot which uncom­pli­cated and easy to fol­low.  The story is told through the eyes of Pekkala with­out switch­ing char­ac­ters, but only in time and space.  The descrip­tion of Stal­in­ist Rus­sia is fas­ci­nat­ing and engross­ing as well as the county under the Tsar’s rule. The struc­ture of the book is fas­ci­nat­ing – there are no chap­ters, just one long narrative.
At the end of the book there is a time­line of what actu­ally hap­pened to the Romanovs.  The time­line helps the reader dis­tin­guish between fact and fic­tion which is a nice touch and I would love to see that in more novels.
It seems that this is the first in a series, which should be inter­est­ing because it goes against the offi­cial com­mu­nist Russ­ian dogma of the “Work­ers’ Par­adise” a coun­try free of crime, filled with happy and con­tent people.'

My rat­ing for Eye f the Red Tsar- 4

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