The Holy Thief
Minotaur, Aug 31 2010, $24.99
In 1936, Moscow Militia's Criminal Investigation Division Captain Alexei Korolev leads the investigation into the brutal murder of a battered woman in a church. The body’s myriad of bruises indicates the victim was tortured as if the culprit sought information from the deceased.
NKVD Colonel Gregorin is fascinated with the homicide that he thinks has political ties. With Gregorin assisting him, Korolev identifies the dead female woman as an American nun, who allegedly helped smuggle valuables out of the Soviet Union. When a second murder similar to that of the Sister occurs, Korolev obtains aid from a diverse cautious crew of friends and associates, wannabe Russian Baker Street Irregulars and author Isaac Babel.
The key to this excellent 1930s Soviet police procedural is the Stalin internal terrorism cuts through all aspects of Moscow society; no one is immune, not even a homicide cop. That oppressive aura engulfs Korolev who wants to solve the murder case, but must not cross clearly drawn lines or someone else could be investigating his homicide. In some ways the deep look at people during the heart of Stalinism is graphic and the use of the strong investigation as a support tool to enhance how fearing Russians were makes this great thriller somewhat more a historical with a powerful whodunit investigation enabling readers to feel the stressful stench of the Stalin smog.