"The White Russian: A Novel of St. Petersburg"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie SEP 16, 2004)
Tom Bradby does a remarkable job of setting the stage for a series of brutal murders in Russia on the eve of revolution. It is January 1, 1917. Bradby's St. Petersburg literally glitters during the last days of the monarchy. The descriptions of the beautiful city with its opulent Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Cathedral, exquisite architecture, the Neva River where the body of Rasputin was found, the flavor of various neighborhoods and squalid tenements, provide stark contrasts and give the novel a strong sense of reality, without bogging down in detail. The author obviously researched meticulously the period, characters and cityscape.
The cold is bitter, the population tense. These are indeed turbulent times and this multi-layered novel unfolds parallel to historical events. Chief Investigator of the St. Petersburg Police Department, Sandro Ruzsky, has just returned from a three-year exile in Tobolsk, Siberia and is immediately involved in a double murder. The victims, a young woman and a man were found on the Neva's ice in front of the Tsar's Winter Palace. Within hours of discovering the bodies, the Okhrana, the Tsar's secret police, step in to take over the case. They make it very clear that Ruzsky's assistance is not needed. Sandro, tenacious and jaded, is compelled to pursue the investigation on his own. When the young woman is identified as a former palace employee, Ruzsky wonders if the murders are politically motivated. The Tsarina pushes for Ruzsky to solve the case immediately, while the Ohhrana sabotages him at every turn.
Sandro is the black sheep son of an aristocratic family. His father, the Minister of Finance, has banned him from visiting the family home - where his soon-to-be divorced wife and beloved son live. The Ruzskys are alienated and appalled that he chose a career in the police force rather that the Tsar's elite guards.
When a third murder takes place and the investigation leads Sandro closer to the Imperial Family, he faces a ruthless killer who taunts him at every turn, and also confronts his past and the woman he once loved. As the storyline accelerates, so do the unstoppable forces of revolution. Everything and everyone Ruzsky cares about is at risk.
This is a story of political intrigue, along with the historical social unrest of the times. Members of the doomed royal family are background figures, and the Tsarina is one of the characters. Love, passion, death, betrayal and revenge fill the pages, but above all, this is a mystery with a thrilling ending. The pace is quick and the action is constant. I especially enjoyed the character of Sandro Ruzsky, an extremely complex, honest man of the highest integrity. I couldn't put this super rich story down.
- Amazon readers rating: from 17 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The White Russian at RandomHouse.com(back to top)
"The Master of Rain"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer MAY 15, 2003)
"She was standing in the middle of the room, still appraising him frankly, although, he thought, with less hostility now. Or perhaps that was his imagination. He saw that she was a strong woman, the veins and muscles standing out in her forearms as she clasped her shoulders. For reasons that were not entirely clear to him, the plight of this woman, how she got here and how she could afford to live like this, was, for Field, suddenly and confusingly a cause for concern. Everyone always talked of the white Russians and the circumstances into which they were forced, but their predicament had not, until now, seemed real..."
In 1926, Shanghai is a place of escape. The Russian aristocracy, chased out of their homes and lives by the Bolsheviks, their beautiful and once privileged young women forced to prostitute themselves in order to live, the wealthy taipans, who carve out sections of the territory in order to enrich themselves and Richard Field, who came to Shanghai in order to escape the shadow of his newly dead father and make a new life for himself.
Field is the newest member of the Special Branch, the part of the International police force that concerns itself with suppressing the spread of communism and keeping the general order of the city. He is ordered to team up with Detective Caprisi, of the Crime Branch, to see if the brutal murder of a Russian girl has any political connections. What they discover when they look inside of Lena Orlov's bedroom is much more than either bargained for. She has been handcuffed to the bed, and stabbed, ferociously, several times. When Field speaks with her neighbor, Natasha Medvedev, he finds himself entranced, not just because of her incredible beauty, but because of her almost palatable fear...fear that makes her carefully worded lies and denials of knowledge all too plain. The investigation has a rough start -- their prime material witness is hauled off to the French Concession and beheaded as a Communist, and the three detectives, Field, Caprisi and Chen can do nothing to stop it. Field feels a connection to these Russian ladies and wants to help find justice before the killer strikes again; Caprisi and Chen are hoping to take down Lu Huang. Huang owns the apartment building and the ladies who live inside of them, and therefore they think they can use Lena's death to take down the powerful drug lord.
Such a task would not be easy in any circumstance, but the setting here makes it worse. Shanghai is drawn like a papaya, exotic and lush looking on the outside, but inside a ruin of corruption. The city is carved into two concessions, the French Concession and the International Settlement. Both are filled with foreigners that are vying to make themselves rich off of China while leaving her children to beg and starve in the streets. Women of both races sell themselves, in varying degrees, but for the Russians, it is worse. Not to belittle the plight of the Chinese women, although for while their lot is misery, they have the slim help and comfort that comes from belonging. The Russians are outsiders, bitter outcasts, who have even less power and therefore can be forced to do even lower things to scrape by. In the very beginning Field is asked by a lady secretary, no less, if he's had a Russian Princess. His own step-Aunt says they have to get him one. Even the good guys make it sound as if these women are disposable...the two Russian men that we spend any real time with, treat these women like trash. Caprisi and MacGregor both seem to act like the dead women are unimportant, because they're "Only Russians." If it wasn't for the hope that they could score a major victory in their war with Huang, no one would take a second thought about a dead Russian hooker. This attitude of human worthlessness in the face of political corruption and how such corruption trickles down through the ranks is a sorrowful reminder of how overwhelming greed can undermine the good that people are capable of. In some ways the setting with its harsher reality is what makes the story more exciting.
The web of politics is so dense, that at any moment our hero can find himself in forced retirement. He has to conduct a thorough investigation, yet he has to be extra cautious. Cautious of the beautiful Natasha, who haunts him, of the politics between the two branches, and of the careful traps that seem to wait for a naive detective who wants to play a knight in shining armor. He has to be especially wary of his two superiors, who watch him constantly, to try to figure out who is lying to serve politics and who is working to see justice served. Bradby is certainly a master of words.
- Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Master of the Rain at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Shadow Dancer (February 1999)
- The Sleep of the Dead (January 2001)
- The Master of Rain (April 2002)
- The White Russian (May 2003)
- The God of Chaos (August 20006 in UK)
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- TWBooks.Co.Uk on all novels by Tom Bradby
- BookReporter.com review of The Master of Rain
- Shots Magazine review of The Master of Rain
- Time.com review of The Master of Rain
- XtraMsn review of The White Russian
- BookReporter.com review of The White Russian
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About the Author:
Tom Bradby is a foreign correspondent for the British television network ITN. He has spent the last eight years covering British and American politics, as well as conflicts in China, Ireland, Kosovo, and Indonesia. While living in Hong Kong and writing this novel, Bradby researched historical records and archives of 1920s Shanghai. He now lives in London with his wife and three children and is the Royal Correspondent for ITV News.