THE DISTINGUISHED ASSASSIN

Written by Nick Taussig

Review written by Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.


THE DISTINGUISHED ASSASSIN
Dissident
RRP: £12.99
Released: 10 June 2013
Hbk

Veering between 1949 and 1955 in Soviet Russia, this hugely intriguing tale follows Aleksei Klebnikov, former soldier and now intellectual, through the kinds of hell we can only try to imagine.

For a short time, Aleksei is as near content as it is possible to be living with critical shortages of food and other necessities, overlooked by a repressive and cruel state machine, and the imminent danger in life for anybody who does not toe the party line. With his beautiful wife Natasha and daughter Katya, he is absorbed enough to ignore these minor problems and make the best he can of life.

But Aleksei has unwittingly come to the attention of the authorities, in the vindictive persona of MVD officer, Vladimir Primakov. And Primakov has his eye on Natasha.

Ripped from his family for no good reason, Aleksei is sent to Kolyma in the far east of Russia, where cruelty and deprivation reigns, to a hard labour camp run by guards who have no regard for human life and where the weather forms the harshest of backdrops for men who have no hope and, for some, no way out.

Fortunately, Aleksei carries with him memories of his family, to help him endure, if not quite overcoming the cruel and deadly conditions. It is here that he comes to the attention of notorious thief-in-law (gangster) Ivan Bessonov, who offers him a mission for when he gets out and returns to his family.

The mission is to assassinate six leading communists – all influential party members – who have used their positions to abuse and/or kill for personal gain or gratification. At first Aleksei refuses; he is not a killer. But he is a principled and desperate man, and the offer of money gives him hope for the future. But there is a condition: he must complete the kills within one year.

Once free of Kolyma, he sets off for home and his family. But things have changed. Vladimir Primakov has done the worst possible thing: he has kept his threat and taken Natasha as his own. Filled with impotent fury, Aleksei sets about tracking down his targets, studying their movements carefully before moving in for the kill. But now he has added another name to his list – that of Vladimir Primakov.

This is not a comfortable read – but nor is it meant to be. We see the gradual moral destruction of a man doing what he has to to survive, all the time being eaten away by the knowledge that his wife and daughter have betrayed him. Or have they?

From the bitterly harsh conditions of the labour camp, the cruelty of guards and fellow inmates, to a ‘freedom’ which is nothing of the sort, Aleksei follows a path he cannot leave. He’s the victim of a terrifying system that allows and even encourages the worst of society to proper and flourish while ripping the heart out of its ordinary citizens. But what it cannot do in - Aleksei’s case, at least - is to take his soul. Not until he is ready.

Filled with larger than life characters, good and bad, every page draws you into a world that we might think is terrifyingly unreal… yet we also know from recent history certainly isn’t. This is a compelling read, and Nick Taussig has absolutely nailed the background, the conditions, the people – and the dilemma of a man betrayed by the system, the authorities, thefunctionaries and even the weather itself…

Recommended.

Read Adrian Magson's Interview here.

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