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Moskva by Jack Grimwood: darkness at the heart of the Soviet Union #thriller

moskvaMoscow Christmas Eve 1985. The naked body of  a young boy is found at the foot of the Kremlin. There are no clues as to how he met his death. No bullet holes, no stab wounds, no broken limbs, no bruises. But his skin is unnaturally white. Someone, it seems, drained his body of blood before dumping him in the snow.

One week later and Alex Marston, the headstrong teenage step-daughter of the British Ambassador, goes missing from the official residence. Has she been abducted? What’s the connection between her and the body found at the Kremlin? Her mother is distraught. For her step-father it’s an inconvenience because if she’s not found quickly he’ll be obliged to involve the Soviet police and diplomatic service.

Though he has little regard for Major Tom Cook, the newest member of the Embassy team, the Ambassador’s options are limited.  Cook, a chaplain turned army intelligence officer who it appears was hurriedly sent to Moscow to avoid spilling secrets to a government inquiry about uncover operations in Northern Ireland, is drafted in to find the girl. It’s an assignment that drags him deep into the heart of a faction of the Soviet establishment that is determined to protect itself at all costs.   Cook has to call on all his resources in the face of opposition from KGB, the Politburo and some of the highest level of government ministers, none of whom want the secrets of the past to come to light. He has few people on his side other than the owner of a seedy bar, a former soldier who returned from Afghanistan with a prosthetic made from the leaf spring of a car. This unlikely pair have to act fast as the body count rises.

An avalanche of thrilling set pieces propels the plot forward to a perfect show down ending. Grimwood is new to thriller writing (he’s a well established author of science fiction) but his handling of tension and complex plot lines is sure-footed. If that was all this novel offered I’d have rated the novel as a good one to read on a beach/sun l0unger

Russia’s ruling elite at Red Square, Moscow 1985

with eyes only half open. But this is a novel which brings Moscow and the Soviet system in the era before Glasnost vividly to life. This is a country divided between those who want to protect the centralised command and control model of the past and the newer political leaders like Gorbachev who see the future as one of reform and openness.

Into this maelstrom steps Cook, a hero who is as divided as the country in which he now has to operate. He’s a man very much at home with a very large flask of vodka. Alcohol is the only way he can deal with his demons; the despair over the death of his daughter and his failure as a father. His quest for Alex becomes a personal quest for salvation:

…. how could he explain he’d pinned his entire hope of redemption on finding Alex? He needed redemption as much as she needed saving. If she was still alive to be saved. if there was enough of him to be redeemed. He wouldn’t allow himself to leave the Soviet Union until that was done. He couldnt…

Tom knew how absurd that was, how arrogant, how messianic.

He didn’t care.

Like most of the characters Grimwood presents in Moskva, Cook is larger than life. But there’s enough of his back story, and enough of his ruminations on his failure as a father, a husband and soldier to feel that we want to be on his side; empathising when he suffers set backs, groaning when he seeks out yet another shot of vodka and cheering him on when he gets his breaks. Without him Moskva wouldn’t be half as good a novel. It would still be a good yarn but with him, Grimwood has delivered a stunningly readable, atmospheric, gripping novel.

The Daily Telegraph picked it as one of the best crime fiction novels of 2016. I won’t argue with that…..

Footnotes for Moskva by Jack Grimwood

  • Published in hardback format: May 2016
  • Paperback due out November 2016
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Language: English
  • Author webpage:



What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

20 thoughts on “Moskva by Jack Grimwood: darkness at the heart of the Soviet Union #thriller

  • buriedinprint

    I like the back-and-forth in the excerpt you’ve quoted. And I can see where the characterization would be the ultimate draw in such a story’s true success. I’d likely have the same response!

    • Without the characterisation this would indeed have been a very, very dull book

  • I love Russian novels, and especially a crime thriller such as you described! It reminds me of Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a bit, although that is Scandinavian I believe. I want to read this one!!

    • I remember being a bit baffled by Miss Smilla at times (it seemed to have some complex history about relationships with denmark) but was still intrigued enough to finish it and find it enjoyable. Moskva is a more straightforward read but well worth it

  • Had read good review of this before but had dismissed the claims of ‘another Gorky Park’ or ‘another Child 44’ as marketing. But your review has convinced me. I’ve a holiday at end of August so will add Moskva to the suitcase!

  • What an emphatic review which means this one has to go onto my TBR – one of the best crime fiction books of 2016! Also I don’t think I’ve read any crime fiction set in Russia so that alone makes it worth a look at.

    • With all the crime you read you amaze me that your travels haven’t gone as far as Russia. Winter in Moscow is the perfect atmosphere for evil deeds…

  • Ooo, this does sound good. I shall put this down on my wishlist for when it comes out in paperback!

    • I got confused sometimes between who was who amongst the possible conspirators but it didnt get in the way really

  • This sounds great 🙂 I really enjoyed the crime thriller Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, which was also set in Russia.

    • I don’t know that one but there is an affinity between thriller and Russia that somehow works

      • I highly recommend looking it up – I am now looking forward to watching the film adaptation starring Tom Hardy.

  • This is not the type of book I’d usually pick up (I haven’t read a Russian set thriller since Gorky Park many, many years ago) but you’ve convinced me to add Moskva to my TBR list.

    • I think its a natural progression from Gorky Park in the sense that it takes us to a Russia we know is about to change and yet the book shows how much part of the country clings to the past

  • I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, so I’m delighted (though not surprised) to hear how good it is. Grimwood’s SF was always fairly noir-ish so it’s not as big a jump for him as the shift in genre might otherwise suggest.

    His characters I think tend generally to be a bit larger for life. I actually wonder if crime will help keep them in check. He has an excellent alternate history trilogy known as his Arabesque trilogy of which I loved the first, liked the second and was ok with the third and my decreasing fondness was directly linked to the characters growing steadily larger than life as the series progressed due to various technological enhancements. A historical setting would avoid that I’d think.

    If you’re curious I have reviewed one of his SF novels at mine (9Tail Fox), under his original name of Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Like Iain (M.) Banks he seems to be publishing his sf and his non-sf under slightly different variants of his name, presumably to help avoid reader confusion.

    Nice review. I’ll look out for this.

    • He probably needs to rein back a little on the larger than life aspect of his characterisation if he plans to write more thrillers. He gets away with it in this one because the plot is so strong but that might not always work


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