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The Holy Thief by William Ryan

The Holy Thief (edition 2010)

by William Ryan

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2591544,125 (3.53)16
Title:The Holy Thief
Authors:William Ryan
Info:MacMillan London (2010), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:Moscow, murder, thriller

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The Holy Thief by William Ryan


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This superb thriller, by an Irish author, is set in Moscow in 1936, a hungry, fearful place. The Revolution is in full swing. Stalin reigns supreme. The secret police stalk the streets and offices and homes and informers whisper in their ears and every now and then the statue of a Russian hero is taken down and his picture removed and he is never heard from again. The populace walk on eggshells, but the real Terror is yet to come. The churches are deconsecrated and religion is a crime, but Russia’s long, devout history does not die easily.

After the discovery of the horribly mutilated body of a women displayed on the altar of a church,Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, investigates. The discovery that the body is that of an American citizen is a cause for grave concern and draws unwelcome attention from his superiors and from the NKVD. More bodies are discovered, and Korolev follows a trail that takes him to the lowest depths of the Moscow underworld and the highest reaches of his own organisation.

Gripping and atmospheric, this debut thriller threatens to charge off into serial-killer-meets-DaVinci Code territory, with its horrible murders and historical artifacts, but in fact Ryan keeps the story firmly grounded, so much so that one of the most memorable sections of the book is a trip to a Spartak Moscow soccer match, depicting the crush and excitement and the hurly-burly with an impressive eye for detail. Korolev is an engaging character, strong, decent, secretly religious, determinedly optimistic about Russia’s communist future.

This is the first volume of a series that promises to be one of the most interesting forays into historical crime fiction in recent years. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
The Holy Thief
By William Ryan
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Published In: New York City, NY, USA
Date: 2010
Pgs: 345


A murder mystery sweeps Moscow in 1936. In the shadows of Stalin’s Great Terror, a investigator in the Criminal Investigative Division of the Moscow Militia is on the trail of a killer. The murderer tortures his victims. The Gangs of Moscow have an interest. The NKVD has an interest. Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev is being followed. His moral and political ideals are under scrutiny. He is a good soldier. He must find the criminal even if it means meeting with the devils of both the criminal world and the ones hiding in the halls of power in Stalin’s Russia.

fiction, mystery, crime, russia

Why this book:
I’ve always been fascinated by Russia.

This Story is About:
duty and corruption

Favorite Character:
Korolev is a great character.

Least Favorite Character:
Larinin the weasel.

Character I Most Identified With:

The Feel:
I expected a closer feel. More claustrophobic. The weight of a Moscow winter and the Soviet system sit heavily upon all those in the book.

Favorite Scene:
The opening scene with the first crime scene and what happened there.
The denouement scene where Korolev unties Valentina after the attack is sweet.

The Church on Rankin Street, the precinct house on Petrovka Street, the football pitch of Tomsky Stadium, the apartment building on Bolshoi Nikolo-Vorobinsky,

It’s not a breakneck page turner pace, but it does move along well.

Plot Holes/Out of Character:

Last Page Sound:
The end could have ran on just a bit more. I would have liked to have seen a bit of the future of these characters.

Author Assessment:
I wish the villain of the piece wouldn’t have been telegraphed quite as hard as it was.

Editorial Assessment:

Did the Book Cover Reflect the Story:
A man in a heavy coat in silhouette walks away from us down a cobblestoned street with the Moscow skyline in front of him in sunlight...or cloudy bright snow clouds.

Hmm Moments:

Knee Jerk Reaction:
it’s alright

Disposition of Book:
Half Price Book stack

Why isn’t there a screenplay?
It could make a good movie.

Casting call:
The role of Korolev could lend itself to a couple different styles. Mickey Rourke or Michael Madsen could both work well in the role.
Michael Rosenbaum could fit well in the role of the junior detective in Korolev’s division, Semionov.
Nathan Fillion as Larinin would be playing against type, could be awesome.
Mark Harmon as Popov, the older leader of the CID detachment at Petrovka Street.

Would recommend to:
Russophiles, genre fans, crime novels, mystery ( )
1 vote texascheeseman | Dec 20, 2013 |

In 1936, during the height of Stalinism, Moscow CID detective Alexei Korolev investigates a series of horrific killings and discovers they're linked to an illicit plot to export a particular icon to the West, where it'll fetch a huge price. Making life extra difficult for Korolev is the fact that the NKVD (precursor of the infamous KGB) is involved in the case as well; somehow he must solve it without guaranteeing himself a one-way ticket to the Lubianka and then, beyond, to the gulags . . .

Some elements of this book very well. In a distantly similar way to Catch 22 it conveyed the sense of the world being ruled by cockeyed logic; at the end of each reading session I found myself having to make a conscious effort to stop being quite that paranoid. But the writing plods quite a lot (see below), and there are some irking irrelevant digressions as if the author had been told it'd give his text a bit more of yer upmarket clarse if he put in these little sidebars, as it were. I also got fed up Real Fast with the cheesy, adoring, meticulous stream-of-killer's-consciousness-like descriptions of the murders. I'm uncertain as to why Minotaur should have been so rocked by the manuscript that (according to the ARC I read) they gave the book an initial 125,000 print run.

I assume Korolev's adventures have by now become a series (I know, I know: I should check) and that Ryan's learning as he goes along. If I trip over a later volume I may very well pick it up -- as I say, I did like the way the mise-en-scene tampered with my thinking -- but I have no great urgency to search one out.

As for the lumpen writing? Well . . .


The last time he'd seen her she'd been lively, despite being up to her elbows in a decapitation. (p43)


Two sad brown eyes started at his waist and worked their way up. (p154)


Babel seemed oblivious to the fact that Korolev's blood had concentrated in his toes. (p163)


The bullets flung the man off the end of the rifle, a look of surprise in his already dead eyes. (p236)

( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
I tried and tried to get through this story and it bore me. I read the first 100 pages of the book and the story barely developed. The author uses too many words to describe or explain a simple subject or scene. I give it a two-star rating simply because the author is very creative with his writing, but excessively verbose. ( )
1 vote gdill | May 16, 2013 |
This is a really page-turning thriller, set in Moscow in the 1930s. The protagonist, Korolev, is a wonderful, engaging character. He's certainly not an angel, but you are immediately on his side. I'm no historian, so I can't tell you how accurate the author's depiction of Moscow at that time is, but it feels authentic and immersive. Even the incidental characters are nicely drawn.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was the torture scenes. I really can't handle torture depicted on screen or on the page, so I had to skip over those parts. I don't doubt that they were well written, but it was just too much for me.

Other than that, a very engaging read, and I'll be looking out for more in the series. ( )
  bsag | Mar 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
U Moskvi 1936. godine pocinje Staljinova diktatura. U jednoj oskrnavljenoj crkvi, mlada zena pronadena je mrtva, a njeno unakazeno telo ostavljeno je na oltaru.

Kapetan Aleksej Dimitrijevič Koroljev suočava se sa najtežim slučajem u karijeri i počinje da traga za okrutnim serijskim ubicom.

U zemlji gde vladaju strah, nesigurnost i siromaštvo, Koroljev namerava da otkrije istinu koja se krije iza jezivih ubistava. Međutim, on počinje da se pita kome može, a kome ne može da veruje i ko su, u stvari, pravi kriminalci u Rusiji tridesetih godina dvadesetog veka? Koroljev uskoro saznaje da nisu ugroženi samo njegovi moralni i politički ideali, već i njegov život...
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In the still air of the sacristy the only sounds were the slow dripping of her blood onto the marble floor and the faint whisper of her breathing.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312586450, Hardcover)

Moscow, 1936, and Stalin’s Great Terror is beginning. In a deconsecrated church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see. Captain Alexei Korolev, finally beginning to enjoy the benefits of his success with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD—the most feared organization in Russia—becomes involved. Soon, Korolev’s every step is under close scrutiny and one false move will mean exile to The Zone, where enemies of the Soviet State, both real and imagined, meet their fate in the frozen camps of the far north.

Committed to uncovering the truth behind the gruesome murder, Korolev enters the realm of the Thieves, rulers of Moscow’s underworld. As more bodies are discovered and pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust and who, in a Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevail, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life.

William Ryan’s remarkable debut will storm into ten countries in what is sure to be an international publishing event. With Captain Alexei Korolev, William Ryan has given us one of the most compelling detectives in modern literature, a man dogged and humble, a man who will lead us through a fear-choked Russia to find the only thing that can save him or any of us— the truth.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:28 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

As Stalin's great terror begins, a killer strikes. Moscow, 1936. A young woman's mutilated body is found on an alter in a deconsecrated church. Korolev is asked to investigate. The victim is discovered to be an American citizen, and now one false move will mean exile to the Zone, the frozen camps of the far north.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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