I’ve been remiss – which I’m sorry for. I should have listed some of the many, many positive reviews for The Twelfth Department earlier. And now that I’ve left it so long, it may take a while to get through them all. Sorry again.
Anyway, first up is The Guardian who included The Twelfth Department in a crime roundup here and John O’Connell had this to say:
Ryan’s tense, tightly plotted whodunnits feel gloriously plausible, a function of the intimate link he forges between his readers and his characters, never mind that those characters are living through extraordinary times. The older ones, such as Korolev, are cynical, though wary even of their own children. There is a poignant moment when Korolev takes earnest Yuri to the zoo and tries not to laugh (because what would Yuri think?) as they are shown around an area “devoted to the animals that underpin the fur industry – so that we can demonstrate nature within its socialist and industrial context”.
Declan Burke in The Irish Times was also a fan here as was Paul Richardson in Russian Life. And Gwen Ansell wrote a very interesting review (for me anyway) in the South African Mail and Guardian here, saying:
“Ryan constructs a solid detection plot (the first killing is almost, but not quite, a locked-room mystery, since it takes place in an elite apartment block apparently impervious to unlogged visitors), set against a vividly described backdrop.
He employs imagination and empathy as well as meticulous research; we don’t just see the peeling religious frescoes on security office walls, we feel Korolev’s astonishment at their survival.”
John Boland in The Irish Independent gave The Twelfth Department a decidedly enthusiastic thumbs up here and adding:
Ryan’s achievement is to make his characters and their milieu so tangibly immediate that you feel you’re actually in their presence. Obviously his historical research has been considerable, but he’s managed the rare feat of subsuming it into his narrative in such a way that it’s never obtrusive – you really do have the sensation of being on that particular street or in that particular apartment block or municipal building alongside Korolev, his tenacious sidekick Slivka or any of the other vividly realised characters who inhabit the book.
Gumshoe Review in the US also liked it here, saying:
Fans of historical mysteries will definitely want to read the tremendously researched The Twelfth Department. When I read one of William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev mysteries, I feel that I have been transported back in time–a time that is definitely not simple or peaceful, but wrought with unspeakable horrors that were similar to those found during the Spanish Inquisition when citizens were accused of heresy and tortured to death. The mystery in The Twelfth Department is intriguing but is strongly overshadowed by its setting and characterization. In fact, the real mystery is not the murders of the scientists but learning what nightmares are transpiring inside the walls of the Azarov Institute.
NudgeMeNow gave some pretty clear instructions: “Go and get this book, read it and be enthralled” while Crime Thriller Girl called it “a must for fans of the police procedural and historical crime fiction, and for anyone looking for a gripping mystery and emotive story that will keep you hooked to the very last page.”
The Crime Warp liked it here, as did Milo’s Rambles here and so did Russian reviewer Ray Garraty on his blog, Long Walk with Books, here. Crime Scraps gave The Twelfth Department its endorsement as well, adding:
This is a police procedural but greatly embellished and raised above the ordinary by a good sense of the oppressive atmosphere, and a clever evocation of the bizarre frightening world of the Soviet regime of those years. The narrative conveys a world that is a blend of George Orwell and Franz Kafka, with a touch of Mary Shelley. It is always difficult to write historical crime fiction that balances the criminal and the historical aspects, but William Ryan manages this cleverly not burdening the reader with too much detail, but still creating a very real and frightening world.
By this stage you might be thinking: “enough already”. Sadly for you, there are more reviews still to come. Many, many more.
Historical Dagger winning author Aly Monroe “thoroughly recommended” The Twelfth Department on her website and there was more fellow author approbation from the wonderful Imogen Robertson on Zoomer who said “Ryan’s series about a detective in Stalinist Russia is superb, and this is my favourite so far. It’s a fast-paced, exciting read and the sense of time and place is brilliantly evoked. Suffocating and unsettling.”
Crime Fiction Lover liked The Twelfth Department although wanted it to be a bit more pacey, which is worrying as I thought I’d made it as pacey as an amphetamine-spiked greyhound. Shows how little I know.
Criminal Element were “in awe at the amount of research which must have gone into making this book appear so realistic and of its time. The dark, oppression of life in Russia under Stalin lurks in the shadows of every page.” Chapters and Chats meanwhile, thought: “This historical crime thriller should be on the top everyone’s fall reading pile. The book can be read as a standalone if you haven’t read any of the previous installments but after reading “The Twelfth Department” you will surely be scrambling to get your hands on the first two.”
Shelf Awareness liked it, calling Korolev “one of the most likable detectives in modern fiction”. Typical – I do all the hard work and the character gets all the praise.
Killing Time Crime, God bless them, thought “The Twelfth Department is possibly the best so far in a very enjoyable series.” and Ayo Onatade over at Shotsmag agreed: “This is a series that just keeps on getting better and better. Atmospheric, impressive and a cracking story, if you haven’t started to read this series then what are you waiting for!” And as if that weren’t enough Crimepieces joined in with: “Overall I think that this is the best book yet in a series that is going from strength to strength.”
I think a pattern is forming. And, as if my head weren’t big enough already after that lot, here comes Gordon O’Sullivan over at the Historical Novel Society:
I haven’t read the previous two novels in this series, but The Twelfth Department is so good that in fact, while not hindering the reader’s enjoyment, it further succeeds in whetting the reader’s appetite for the previous novels. The fetid and suffocating atmosphere created by Ryan, where friends, colleagues and even family cannot be trusted, is brilliantly realised and becomes progressively worse as the narrative unfolds and Korolev’s choices narrow. The characterisation is simply excellent. Korolev is a conflicted and complex character whose personal story intertwines with the twisted and turning investigative narrative while the other characters, such as the Moscow mob boss, Count Kolya, are all energised and smoothly drawn. As a crime story this is excellent, but as a historical crime novel, it is outstanding.
But wait – here comes Amanda at Eurocrime:
A truly magnificent book: addictive, interesting, well-written and full of interesting characters. Captain Korolev is helping Ryan establish himself as a first rate author of historical crime fiction. I am definitely a fan of this series and already desperate to read the next one! Extremely highly recommended.
Zabeth Marsh at Finding Me in Words was another fan:
As dark and dreary as Ryan is able to describe life in 1930’s Russia, Alexei still tells a story of hope and truth. That is what is so rewarding about this series and endearing about the human experience. No matter your surroundings, how different your upbringing, political thinking, etc. hope and the human experience is universal. We all want to survive. We all want to love. We all want to be what is right. Alexei is a hero worth following because he is a common man doing his job. His job just happens to be solving murders.
One of my favourite bloggers, Lindsay at The Little Reader Library, also joined the The Twelfth Department love-in. I know, I know – you’re thinking this is getting ridiculous – but this is what she said:
I love the author’s writing style. There’s a definitive, distinctive voice there telling the story; not intrusive, but certainly in control, and with a nice touch of dry humour at times. It feels as though the author has grasped the atmosphere of the times and conveyed it in his story so that as we are reading, the past is evoked for us and we get a real sense of the fear, secrecy and paranoia coursing through this society.
And Jodi at Chapters and Chats also gave The Twelfth Department a very nice write-up:
This historical crime thriller should be on the top everyone’s fall reading pile. The book can be read as a standalone if you haven’t read any of the previous installments but after reading “The Twelfth Department” you will surely be scrambling to get your hands on the first two.
Radmila May reviewed all three Korolev novels over at Mystery People, describing them as excellent which is very nice to hear, because Radmila knows what of she speaks.
John Sheridan also reviewed all three of the Korolev Novels at The Mystery Bookshelf starting his analysis by saying:
Straight from the opening prologue you can appreciate that the quality of the writing herein is something from another realm.
Fortunately he meant that in a good way.
Meanwhile, there were also a few other reviews for The Holy Thief – Roisin at Random Descent liked it, saying:
It’s a fascinating look at a lost time (the meaning of Russian criminal tattoos especially intrigued me) but that would mean nothing without a good story. There’s no need to worry as Ryan constructs a fast-paced mystery with sympathetic and realistic characters. I will definitely be seeking out the rest of the Korolev novels.
Good advice I’d say.
And Gutenborg’s Son also reviewed The Holy Thief:
The Holy Thief is a beautifully constructed novel of what can only be called Soviet Noir and a wonderful introduction to the life and times of Alexei Korolev, investigator of the Criminal Investigative Division of the Moscow Militia and whose exploits I look forward to in the next novel of the series, The Darkening Field.
That’s it, at last. An avalanche of reviews, all of which have been very good news as far as I’m concerned – now I’d better get back to work on the new book.