The Inspector Pekkala novels by Sam Eastland
Three of my favourite genres of books are, War, Police, and Espionage novels. When I found the first Inspector Pekkala novel, Eye of the Red Tsar, I knew that I had found a gem amongst stories.
Eastland takes real events and weaves an excellent yarn around them. Inspector Pekkala was once the favourite detective of the final Tsar of Russia. Equally feared and respected across the country he built a solid reputation and gained the trust of the royal family. Following their murders he his hunted down by the communists and sent to a gulag deep in the heart of Siberia where he is given a job no man is expected to survive. Living in the vast forests he is left to fend for himself and develops a mythological status amongst the other prisoners.
Stalin himself sends an officer to release Pekkala from the prison with a guarantee of freedom if he can identify the real killers of the Tsar and his family. The book brings to life the terrible conditions within Russia at the time of Stalin’s reign. Pekkala is a wonderful character with a unique set of personality traits. He is thrown together with the man who was sent to release him, Kirov, a man who becomes his side-kick and forms an unusual friendship with the inspector, which develops during the series.
The second book The Red Coffin is set immediately prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. Pekkala, now established as Stalin’s main investigator, is sent to investigate the death of the designer of the T34 tank. The designer was killed before the tank was completed; several prototypes had been made and were in the process of being tested at the time of his death. One of the prototypes is stolen and is used by a group of anti-communist Russians in an attempt to provoke German forces to invade Russia with the hope of rousting the communist party. Pekkala and Kirov are sent to the T34 test grounds to investigate the death of the designer and locate the missing tank. This is not only a great story but also describes the tensions between Russia and Germany at the end of the 1930’s. The two main characters develop in this book making them one of modern fictions great crime teams.
In real life the T34s designer was killed by pneumonia as he attempted to drive a prototype over a 1000 miles in a demonstration of its capabilities. This story cleverly uses some of the known facts whilst staying completely within fiction.
Book 3, Siberian Red, is set at the outbreak of the war. Stalin learns of a man who is offering information on the whereabouts of the lost treasures of the Tsars. The man with the information is a convict in the same Siberian gulag that Pekkala was a prisoner in. Before he can be questioned he is murdered and Pekkala is sent to investigate the crime and try to find the location of the treasures. In what is like a living nightmare Pekkala is forced to leave Kirov behind and return to the gulag, undercover, as a prisoner. This book builds on Stalin’s greed and insecurity. He wants the treasure but he is also afraid of the White Russians, soldiers who were loyal to the Tsar, and have since formed a group in prison, and amongst the battalions of Stalin’s army. Back in the gulag Pekkala fights for his life whilst trying to gain information of the killer of the informant, and find a location for the Tsars treasure.
In the fourth book, The Red Moth, Pekkala is summonsed by Stalin following the finding of a picture. The picture was found in the bag of a single passenger of a German Scout plane. Stalin believes there must be more importance to the picture than anybody understands and Pekkala quickly confirms his thoughts. The picture contains information on some of the lost treasures of the Tsars. It also alludes to the fact that the Germans have located and were going to ransack the Amber Room, a room that was panelled in ornate Amber in one of the Tsar palaces, and take it to Germany. Pekkala is dispatched to locate the room and bring the panels back to Moscow before the advancing German troops can carry out their orders. The book has a great story and includes a moral dilemma for Pekkala, if he cannot recover the Amber should he destroy one of the great works of art to stop it falling into German hands. At the end of this book the outcome is revealed but at what cost.
Again this story revolves around real events. The actual Amber Room was located in Catherine Palace, near St Petersburg. It was overrun by German military units during the war and the contents were looted. The panels of the Amber Room have never been found, and to this day remain one of the great mysteries of the war, and one of the world’s great lost treasures.
Book 5, The Beast In The Red Forest, starts about 18 months after the end of book 4. Pekkala has been missing, presumed dead, since his attempt to locate the Amber Room panels. Stalin receives word that he may be alive and dispatches Kirov to the front line to locate him. Set against the ever changing back drop of the war between the Russian Army, the German Army, and the Partisan Army this story is more about espionage than the previous books.
Is Pekkala alive, will Kirov find him, and if he is alive why has he been anonymous for so long. All these questions are answered against a backdrop of close war, where front lines move backwards and forwards less than 100 yards a day, and in the background is a hidden plot that is only revealed in the last 50 or so pages.
Throughout this series Eastland examines life in Russia under Stalin’s reign. He uses Stalin’s flawed, psychotic personality, to bring a depth of threat not only to the main characters but shows what a threat he was to the world.
Pekkala is a wonderfully deep character. Life as the Inspector for the Tsar gaves him the investigative skills. Life in the gulag gave him survival skills. Life as Stalin’s Inspector gives him dilemmas which we may, or may not, agree with how he deals with, but one thing is for sure. I cannot wait for the next book.
I have used the UK titles for the books in this blog. If you want to find the alternative titles or read more there is a great website dedicated to these books www.inspectorpekkala.com