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By Sam Eastland
Bantam, March 2011 ($25.00)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
In the second appearance of Sam Eastland's character Inspector Pekkala, Eastland combines real historical events with a fictional murder mystery into a crackerjack story. Pekkala is even better than in the first book, EYE OF THE RED TSAR. As in the first book, Eastland shows his talent to keep the suspense turned up.
Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union, knows it is only a matter of time how long Russia has to prepare before Hitler sends the German war machine against Russia. Stalin has a secret wonder weapon the T34 tank in development that he hopes can stop the Germans. But he has two problems: to have enough time to get the T34 into production and to keep the T34 a secret from the Germans. Design problems are keeping the T34 from production. An attempt to pass information about the wonder weapon to the Germans is intercepted. Suspicion for the latter falls on Dr. Nagorski, the head of the Konstantin Project (the code name for the project developing the T34 tank) and the mysterious White Guild. Stalin can trust no one except the Emerald Eye, Inspector Pekkala, to investigate.
Unexpectedly Dr. Nagorski is murdered in his own secured research compound. Only someone with inside knowledge could have entered, killed Nagorski, and then escaped the various booby traps guarding the compound's perimeter. Inspector Pekkala and his partner Major Kirov find on arriving that the NVKD has gotten there before them and has taken charge of the investigation. It is obvious to both Pekkala and Kirov that the officer in charge doesn't know her job or is doing a cover up. Stalin was right in trusting no one but Pekkala to find out the truth.
The story revolves around the questions of trust, betrayal, and love. Eastland weaves these themes into his characters and the murder mystery. Inspector Pekkala is haunted by his affection and loyalty to the former Tsar. Now Pekkala serves the regime that is responsible for the death of the Tsar and the Tsar's family. Pekkala can't stop looking backwards to his service with the Tsar and to the present service with Stalin. But the images are distorted as if looking through broken binoculars. Pekkala is torn with feelings of duty to the Russian people, serving a regime that carries on experiments on humans, his sense of justice, and his basic humanity. Pre-World War II Russia is the realization of George Orwell's 1984. This is a country where people fear being denounced to the government by their neighbors or even their own children. Big Brother is Joseph Stalin. Eastland has nicely drawn the character of Joseph Stalin, the paranoid tyrant. An emotional blankness hovers around Stalin. He is adept at exchanging masks, but the eyes never change their expression. The moments when one mask transforms into another, Pekkala seems to be able to glimpse what lays behind. What Pekkala sees fills him with dread. His only defense is to pretend he cannot see behind Stalin's mask.
Sam Eastland has created in Inspector Pekkala a character who captures our interest and sympathies. We care for this tortured man who seems to have nothing left to live for, but continues to do his duty. What I most admire in Pekkala is that he is a man of action, the right sort of character for an action story like SHADOW PASS. As with Eastland's previous book featuring Inspector Pekkala, SHADOW PASS is a fast paced narrative with a solid story. The action is plausible. A good candidate for your "to read" list of action/thriller books.
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