The first blog reviews for The Twelfth Department came in March and by the time of publication there were five of them, all positive.
Rob Kitchin over at The View from the Blue House described it as having “a strong sense of place, good contextualisation, and vivid atmosphere. Overall, an enjoyable read and a solid addition to what is shaping up to be a very good series.”
Paul Brazill liked it as well, saying The Twelfth Department is “an engrossing and satisfying follow up to its cracking predecessors The Holy Thief and The Bloody Meadow.”
Paul goes on to say: “Ryan’s atmospheric writing is typically smooth and full of vivid, cinematic images. The story is a compelling, twisting and turning investigation and Korolev and the other characters are very well drawn- especially Count Kolya, leader of the Moscow Thieves. All in all, fantastic stuff.”
Sarah Ward on Crimepieces was also impressed:
“The Terror element isn’t overdone: it’s ever-present and pervades everyone’s decisions but the crime/mystery element is given space to flourish. Ryan always presents a solid police investigation and here, there are plenty of twists and turns until we reach the conclusion. The evocation of thirties Russia is excellent and even minor scenes, such as the description of the Moscow zoo and the delight that children take in watching the animals, bring the era to life.
Overall I think that this is the best book yet in a series that is going from strength to strength.”
Gareth of Killing Time also enjoyed it:
“As with the previous books, Korolev’s moral wavering – caught between his duty as a good comrade and his conscience – remains one of the most compelling aspects of the novel, and the character.
Ryan simultaneously raises the stakes and develops his protagonist with the introduction of Korolev’s son Yuri, mentioned in previous books but not seen. Korolev’s colleague Slivka, and neighbour Valentina, are two other recurring characters starting to be fleshed out. One of the joys of crime fiction is being able to immerse yourself in another place (and, in this case, time) and get to know characters over several books, and it’s particularly pleasing to encounter a series whose development has been thought-out and well-paced. The Twelfth Department is possibly the best so far in a very enjoyable series.”
And Marleen Kennedy of Book Noir on NudgeMeNow seems to be a fan as well:
“There is a wonderful balance as far as the characters in these books are concerned as well. We get our fair share of scary party officials, which is to be expected given the setting of the story, but we also encounter Count Kolya, the Chief Authority of the Moscow Thieves and his niece, Sergeant Slivka who is Korolev’s colleague. And the relationship that is slowly developing between Korolev and Valentina, the woman he shares an apartment with, is a delight to watch.
I could go on gushing about this book indefinitely but I won’t. I’ll end this review with this advice: Go and get this book, read it and be enthralled. If you haven’t read The Holy Thief and The Bloody Meadow yet I’d advise you to read them first. Having said that, it isn’t necessary to have read those two books in order to enjoy The Twelfth Department.”
Booklist have given The Twelfth Department a Starred Review in the US – which is great news.
“Moscow police detective Captain Alexei Korolev is a loyal Russian
who fought in the German War (WWI). He’s also a committed Marxist who fought
the Whites to overthrow the czar. But it’s now 1937, Stalin’s Great Purge is
accelerating, and Korolev struggles to reconcile his loyalties with the gnawing
fear every Russian is feeling. Even worse, his ex-wife is under suspicion, and
his young son, Yuri, who is visiting him for a week, is telling him about the
teacher who is asking Yuri leading questions about his mother’s loyalty. When
the director of a secret research institute is murdered, Korolev finds himself
working for a department of the NKVD—and being menaced by another department. A
second murder, doubtless connected to the first, occurs. Korolev is savagely
beaten by an NKVD hard case. His apartment is searched. Yuri goes missing, and
Korolev fears that he and everyone he cares about will simply disappear. Ryan’s
latest (following The Darkening Field, 2011) has a fine set of
characters, puzzling murders, interesting police work, and a strong sense of
the terror that pervaded Stalin’s Russia. But it is his eye for period detail
(e.g., scheming apparatchiks who denounce a neighbor simply to move into a
larger apartment) that makes this one special.”
And Publishers Weekly followed up with a second starred review …
“The shooting murder of Boris Azarov, a high-level Russian scientist conducting
secret psychological research, propels Ryan’s excellent third pre-WWII thriller
featuring Alexei Korolev, a Moscow CID detective (after 2012’s The Darkening
Field). Korolev, a methodical, almost plodding investigator, gets assigned to
the case, but he soon realizes that several arms of the secret police either
want him to back off entirely or to arrest someone just to clear the books.
Korolev gets a quick demonstration of the power he’s up against: his
12-year-old son, Yuri, is kidnapped amid subtle assurances that the boy will be
returned safely if Korolev goes with the flow. While the police work will keep
readers engaged, the series’ chief strength comes from Ryan’s skillful
evocation of everyday life under Stalin. Ordinary Soviet citizens, Korolev
included, have become resigned to all forms of corruption and hypocrisy, yet
must still wear the mask of communist devotion.”
The Daily Express liked it as well, saying:
“THERE are those who might find the prospect of nearly 400 pages of a historical crime fiction novel a touch daunting.
Equally there will be those who will be tingling with anticipation, particularly if they know that the author is William Ryan with another of his Captain Korolev novels set in Thirties Russia.
For some time the talented Ryan has been among the very best crime novelists
working in a period setting and if your taste is for similar fare by Martin Cruz Smith or Philip Kerr in which an honest sleuth tries to do his best in a corrupt foreign regime you should not hesitate.”
and finishing with this very kind endorsement:
“The first two outings for Ryan’s sleuth, The Holy Thief and The Bloody Meadow, met with almost universal acclaim and were shortlisted for a variety of prizes. It will be absolutely no surprise if this gleans similar praise.
Once again the balance of pungent period detail and increasingly tense plotting are handled with total authority and Korolev remains one of the most persuasively conflicted characters in crime fiction.”
Raven Crime Reads liked it – writing:
“…with exceptional plotting, the assured building of atmosphere and the seamless interweaving of historical detail, supported by a more introspective feel to the characterisation, Ryan has once again produced a superlative read. As I say in the introduction this is a series that deserves attention, so if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading these yet you are in for a treat…”
My Russian isn’t as good as it should be but Detective Method, a Russian Crime Fiction website, liked it as well – saying, amongst other things, that:
“… the author beautifully and realistically conveys the atmosphere of the Soviet past”
Which I’m very pleased with.
Last but not least John Gaynard gave The Twefth Department the thumbs up:
The scenes that provide the most poignant moments of the novel are those in which Korolev, a hero of the First World War and the revolution, needs not only to conceal his Christianity but also to constantly provide reassurance to his son that he is a good Soviet citizen. Ryan shows the extent to which Stalinism could make an honest mother or father afraid of their own flesh and blood. The whole Soviet system was designed to replace love with evil and use it as a weapon against the people who dared to offer it. But some Russians, like Korolev, found the strength to resist.