It is the first day of the new year, 1917, and the first day of
Chief Investigator Ruzsky's return to St. Petersburg from exile in
Siberia. It should have been a chance at a fresh beginning. But
amid the bitter winds and relentless snow of a hostile Russian
winter, he finds himself burdened with the unwanted investigation
of a double murder. The victims, a young woman and a slightly older
man, are found on the ice in the shadow of the Tsar's Winter
Palace. Naturally, this leads Ruzsky to wonder whether the killings
are politically motivated. When one of the victims is identified as
a Palace employee, his hunches seem to be on track. He and his
Deputy Chief Investigator set to work doggedly ferreting out the
murderer. But an arm of the secret police is working to derail them
at every turn, while the Tsarina is personally demanding that he
wrap up the case.
In wartime Russia, a very shaky period in history --- indeed, for
the world --- trusting the wrong allies could be fatal. Ruzsky's
highborn status as son of the Minister of Finance would seem to be
a position that would open some doors to help streamline his
investigation. However, in the prevailing political climate, he
finds it slams many shut on his inquiries.
To complicate matters further, Chief Inspector Ruzsky's thorny
family past --- and, for that matter, present --- can't help but
distract him. The death of his youngest brother many years ago
still greatly pains his father, who continues to blame Ruzsky.
Dmitri, Ruzsky's surviving sibling, enthusiastically welcomes him
home, despite the disapproving looks from their father. But while
Dmitri appears very much in control of himself, he nonetheless is a
man tormented by heavy guilt. Ruzsky's wife left him while in
exile, taking his only son with her back to St. Petersburg and
moving in with his father, brother and sister-in-law. She blatantly
dares him to compete for his father's affection. As much as he
would like to repair the marriage, if only for the sake of his
beloved son, his fondness for the lovely ballerina, Maria, is
growing into love. With all of this going on, it is a wonder the
Chief Investigator has the time or the inclination to solve the
murders. Facing the roadblocks thrown up from some rather unlikely
sources, many policemen would throw in the towel. But then another
body turns up, and then another. There is no stopping now.
THE WHITE RUSSIAN is, first and foremost, a novel of mystery. But
Tom Bradby intersperses plenty of historical snippets and
multi-dimensional facets to build a vividly real tale. Then, when
you add in an undercurrent --- a very strong one --- of romantic
entanglements, you have the makings of a deliciously rich story.
Bradby has a knack for moving his stories along. The action is
unrelenting, and the characters are culturally distinct and full.
Once you open this book, you will not put it down until you reach
the last satisfying line.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 24, 2011