Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Twelfth Department - William Ryan

‘It’s said you get the job done, no matter what the risks or the obstacles.’

This is the third adventure in the now established series of historical crime novels from William Ryan set in 1930s Stalinist Russia, and featuring the brilliant lead character Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia. I've really enjoyed this series thus far, each book has offered intriguing storylines set during a fascinating time and place in history with just enough period detail, and this third novel is no exception. 

This time, it's 1937 and Korolev's investigations into the murder of a top scientist lead him to become more involved than ever with the NKVD, the feared State Security service, becoming caught between two different departments who are at odds with each other. When another scientist is killed, and Korolev starts to discover what they were working on, things start to get rather complicated and dangerous to say the least.

Amongst all this, Korolev also finally has a visit from his son Yuri, who he sees very little of. He had planned some time off to spend with him, however, both the time off work and the happiness of this reunion are shortlived, and soon there is great anxiety for Korolev as young Yuri goes missing, making this investigation very personal.

There are so many conflicts for Korolev; wanting to do the right thing, yet not step out of line, making sure to be seen to be adhering to the will of his superiors, but solve the crime thoroughly and as effectively as he'd like to – he ‘always gets his man, come hell or high water’ – plus he has to find his missing son whilst not neglecting his investigations - so difficult and thus giving plenty of depth to his character and to the tale. As Korolev himself exclaims, in a great little exchange with Dubinkin, describing his difficult situation, ‘It feels like I’m a football being kicked around a field.’

I've said before that Korolev is an engaging, affable and moral lead character and I'll stick by that opinion here. He's imbued with humour and a sense of decency, and is liked by others, and he’s able to form working relationships with people from all levels of the society he exists in. I particularly liked the interaction between Korolev and Count Kolya, Chief of the Moscow Thieves, in this installment.

I love the author's writing style. There's a definitive, distinctive voice there telling the story; not intrusive, but certainly in control, and with a nice touch of dry humour at times. It feels as though the author has grasped the atmosphere of the times and conveyed it in his story so that as we are reading, the past is evoked for us and we get a real sense of the fear, secrecy and paranoia coursing through this society. 

There's enough here for a reader new to the series to pick up the background and enjoy it. Nevertheless I'd recommend reading the first two novels ideally (links to my reviews below) to get the most enjoyment out of it. 

I am firmly hooked on this series now and already wondering what is next in store for Korolev.

Published by Mantle, an imprint of Pan Macmillan

Find the author on twitter @WilliamRyan_ and visit his website here to find out more - it's a really interesting companion to the books.

Thank you to the author and the publisher for kindly sending me a copy of this novel to read and review. 


  1. This isn't normally one I would think to look at but your review has peeked my interest. Lovely review


    1. Thanks for commenting Lainy, hope you get chance to give this novel or one of the others in the series a try at some point.


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