Author – William Ryan
Published – 2011
Genre – Crime fiction
People talk about the ‘difficult second album’ and since I’ve been blogging I’ve noticed that there is also the ‘difficult second novel’ where after years of crafting the first, a second has to be produced in short order. This is a problem that William Ryan certainly doesn’t seem to suffer from, The Bloody Meadow is as well written and carefully plotted as its predecessor The Holy Thief.
Set in 1937, not long after the events in The Holy Thief, Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev has been waiting for some fallout from this earlier case and anticipates his imminent arrest. When the knock at his door finally comes, however, it’s the first step in another investigation which will again force his involvement in matters that he would rather steer clear of. The case is the death of a young woman in Odessa who was working as a film production assistant on ‘The Bloody Meadow’ and Korolev is hopeful that he can determine that the cause was suicide and he can swiftly return home. Needless to say life doesn’t seem to go smoothly for Korolev and he becomes involved in a murder investigation where he has to tread carefully.
Despite the investigation taking place in Odessa a couple of characters from the first book reappear – most notably the writer Babel who is involved in the film production but also one of the less savoury ones. The setting also removes Korolev from his colleagues and he has to seek support from the local CID – including a young female detective whose presence helps to lighten the mood.
The political situation is what sets this series apart. Korolov is an appealing and engaging character that the reader roots for and he’s put in tremendously difficult situations. That’s not so different from the premise used in any number of police or detective stories, but in Korolov’s world the situation is constantly shifting. The military hero of today could disappear tomorrow. Korolov doesn’t choose his allegiances, they are forced on him and he has to balance his sense of right and wrong with a pragmatic approach regarding his own well-being. The investigation touches on some of Russia’s relatively recent history and this contributes to some of the numerous strands to the plot. The period also means that there is little room for forensics and DNA, just good old-fashioned detective skills. As with The Holy Thief there is lots of fascinating historical detail, but never any overly long explanatory passages, the research never gets in the way of the pace of the story.
There are some references made about Korolev’s past and I would be interested to find out more about the experiences that have shaped him.
If you were to pick this book up without reading its predecessor I’m sure that it would make complete sense, but starting at the beginning would be more rewarding! You can see another point of view at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.