Amy Myers is known for her short stories and historical novels featuring Victorian chef Auguste Didier and chimney sweep Tom Wasp. Her contemporary series features classic car detective Jack Colby, and she is currently working on a new 1920s mystery series featuring Nell Drury, chef at Kent’s Wychbourne Court.
This is the fourth in the Inspector Pekkala series written by Sam Eastland (aka novelist Paul Watkins). It was the first I had read, and numbers l to 3 are now top of my list; the first in the series was Eye of the Red Tsar, which was followed by The Red Coffin and Siberian Red. Pekkala has a charmed life. Once the personal detective of the last Tsar, he duly paid the penalty in a Siberian gulag, but survived when summoned by Stalin for special missions because of his exceptional skills. The penalty for his failure, however, is death.
The Red Moth is set in 1941 as Hitler launches his Blitzkrieg invasion of Soviet Russia with the Red Army retreating before it. The novel’s title is taken from a rare species of moth that features in a painting seized from the crash of a German scout plane on territory still in Soviet control. Stalin is convinced that it has great significance for the survival of the Soviet Union and Pekkala is given the task first of discovering its meaning, then of acting upon it. When he works out that the secret stems back to a remarkable and highly prized treasure that belonged to the Romanovs, he knows he is up against formidable opposition, not least because its home in the Catherine Palace will inevitably fall into enemy hands. To fulfil his mission he would have to break through the enemy lines meeting almost certain death.
The great triumph of The Red Moth is the balance with which it blends a first rate thriller into the grim reality of what was happening historically, without one element overpowering the other. The matter of fact writing style brings alive the invasion period with immediacy and credibility, which has the effect of letting us share Pekkala’s experience with him. In Pekkala’s dealings with him, Stalin is a ruthless autocrat fighting for the survival of his Soviet State – and that in the context of what we have come to know since the end of the Second World War about his regime makes The Red Moth all the more chilling.