Adrian Magson is the author of 19 works of fiction and Write On! - The Writer’s Help Book. His series include the Harry Tate spy thrillers and the Lucas Rocco French police novels. His latest thriller is ‘The Watchman’, the first in a new series featuring protection specialist Marc Portman. The sequel – ‘Close Quarters’ – was out in April 2015.
Stelian Munteanu is a book editor in Bucharest. A former conscript and journalist, with occasional forays into investigative work, he survives in the tight and oppressive atmosphere of Romanian life, sustained in part by an interesting history and one or two odd characters he’s picked up along the way, and a long-distance love affair with a woman in London.
One such oddity is former army general Gheorghe Simionescu, who first cropped up on his radar when Stelian was a lowly grunt in uniform, performing technical drawing and graphic duties for the military. Simionescu is now retired, although appears to have some importance in society and government.
Another oddball character is ‘Misha’ Pushkin, once in the KGB, then FSB, who pops up with disconcerting regularity in Stelian’s life, usually asking him to do something.
This time, Misha presents him with a Steyr-Mannlicher sniper’s rifle… and asks him to shoot dead former General Simionescu.
I can’t give away much because it would be a giant spoiler. But this book is Stelian’s gradual move to a ‘will he?-won’t he?’ situation, where he is inexorably pulled towards squeezing the trigger on a man he likes, if not quite admires. This becomes especially awkward when he discovers the general has an attractive – and attracted – daughter who works in television.
Outwardly, this is, as described by the publishers, a thriller. But it is more than that. Written with footnotes, it is an explanatory work on Romanian life and customs, words and meanings (especially important when voicing criticism, even in Post-Ceausescu times, means cloaking it in layers of obfuscation), and gives a fascinating insider look on a society most of us know nothing about.
Hrib paints a neat picture of what it is to live in a society where suspicion during the Ceausescu years has formed the national character, and where survival depends as much on friends, family and whoever else you might know, as much as it does on luck and sheer fate.