The Darkening Field
By William Ryan
1937. Moscow. State Security has assigned Captain Korolev of the Moscow Criminal Investigations Department to oversee the case of the death of a film crew member currently in production in Odessa. Hoping the woman’s death can be quickly deemed a suicide, Korolev discovers almost immediately the case for murder. Was her killer one of her many lovers? One of the actors? A villager who doesn’t like the film crew’s presence. Or, could it be someone with Party connections, perhaps the top man himself? Korolev walks a dangerous line especially when he discovers the woman may have been involved in a traitorous operation.
Ryan chose to go classic whodunit this time around. You have your usual fare of suspects and immoral behavior on the part of the victim along with the anticipated discovery of secrets along the way.
Korolev: Captain in the Moscow Criminal Investigation Division, divorced with a son, non Party member but fought in the Red Army during the Revolution and is optimistic about the future despite the despair seen daily, smoker, speaks a little German and English, has scar running down jaw to chin from a saber wielding Cossack, believes in God but must hide the fact
Rodinov: Colonel in State Security, pale and flabby skin, bald
Mushkin: Major in State Security, a little over six feet tall, burly, smoker, blond hair going white, demeanor degrades attractiveness, known to have been sadistic when dealing with the peasants
Shymko: short brown hair, film production coordinator
Babel: writer, Korolev’s friend, speaks a little French and German
Slivka: attractive female Sergeant in Odessa CID, speaks a little English and Italian, dresses in trousers and a leather jacket, smoker
Count Kolya: Leader of the Moscow Thieves, dark eyes, commanding presence, cultured voice, mother’s family from Jewish descent, cousin of Slivka’s
Very well developed characters. Even the individuals of the militia are distinguished from each other. I really got a ‘feel’ for each character and was genuinely interested in learning about each.
Straight forward. Conversations stayed on point. Every bit of dialogue moved the story forward.
I’m not saying you have to read Ryan’s first novel, The Holy Thief, before you read this one, but doing so would get you more familiar with the characters. There are characters in the first book who show up with supporting or minor roles in this story and if you haven’t acquainted yourself with them, you might not get the full effect. I felt compelled by the situation to learn the identity of the killer and to see if Korolev avoids stepping into trouble. Nice descriptions of people, the landscape, and cities without dragging the story down into too much detail. Subtle humor, intelligent writing. Ryan did his homework on showing the culture and the attitudes and the shadow of evil hanging over everything.