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.