Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
The title of this thriller novel is the name of the river that gives the Russian Capitol its identity, just as the author’s name Grimwood, drops a hint at the novel’s theme, a terrifying and bleak glimpse into the obsidian shadows that lurk behind human nature. The title also gives a clue to the real identity of the author; for Jack Grimwood, is indeed the award-winning literary and speculative / science fiction writer, and journalist Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
I found the theme of identity that striates this highly literate narrative, to be very thought provoking; for like the characters that populate this chilling tale, little is as it is presented, for when we are trapped in an elegant tale, sometimes we overlook what stares at us in the eye. The title, being that of a river, hints at the twists and turns that the enigmatic Major Tom Fox has to navigate when his temporary assignment to Moscow [to lie low away from home] turns treacherous.
It’s 1980s Russia and the war is still cold. We find that Fox is a troubled man. His marriage dissolving, he copes with drink to drown out the recent and tragic loss of his daughter Rebecca, and also to drown out the ghosts of his past, which reveal his former undercover background with British Military Intelligence in Northern Ireland.
During a chance meeting at the British Ambassador’s residence close to Red Square, sharing a cigarette with the enigmatic young teenage Alex Masterton, Fox finds distraction from his thoughts, his past and concerns for his future. And then his problems become exacerbated for the girl on the Balcony is the Ambassador’s daughter. When she vanishes, Fox finds himself ‘on the run’. It seems to Fox that Sir Edward Marston, the Ambassador wishes not to involve the Soviet authorities in finding his missing daughter.
As a backdrop, we have the earlier discovery of the frozen body of young unidentified boy found naked; left outside the walls of the Kremlin. Naturally concerns become raised as to a possible serial killer operating in Russia’s capital, and for Tom the hunt for the Ambassador’s missing daughter takes on another [and urgent] dimension, one of possible redemption for Fox, and his own past.
Grimwood layers on subplots and observations, many as bleak as the austere days of living in the repressive regime that is Russia, as well as the hidden secrets of that era that dates back in time, revisiting the horrors of the past. There is convolution, detailed introspection with the Russian backdrop becoming a character amongst the machinations of corruption and fear. We have glimpses to the siege of Stalingrad, the Russian assault on 1945 Berlin, the shadow of Stalin right up to the corruption and infiltration of criminals clothed in the uniforms of the elite, all leading Major Tom to traverse an alien land, a Fox among wolves with no one to trust.
Moskva is peppered with memorable characters, carved with precision, as well as an exciting and scary landscape, where the past and present may affect Tom Fox’s future and that of others.
This dark political thriller from an accomplished and renowned writer [more recognisable from the SF/Fantasy genre], is a remarkable feat. It traverses a complex plot, brutal action, weaving observations about the dark-side of human nature, and how the deeds of our past can echo and affect the future; populated with an intriguing protagonist and a vast array of secondary characters; with a vivid location, it hopefully means that Jack Grimwood will become a firmament of the Thriller Genre - though a warning, the bleakness can at times be as claustrophobic as its alien setting, for like the author’s surname, there is much Grimness to be uncovered by Tom Fox.