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Moskva by Jack Grimwood

Published by St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books on July 11, 2017

Tom Fox is a British major who spent some time in Northern Ireland working with military intelligence. His bosses have sent him to Moscow to keep him away from a Parliamentary committee that wants him to testify. His ostensible purpose in Moscow involves writing a report about religion in the Soviet Union for the Foreign Office. While he’s safely hidden out of the way, he expects his bosses to decide his fate.

Soon after his arrival, Fox attends a party given by Sir Edward Masterson, the British ambassador. His wife is Anna Masterson and his rebellious teenage stepdaughter is Alex. Shortly after the party, Alex disappears and Masterson enlists Fox’s help to find her.

Fox’s daughter died in an unexplained car crash, a death for which Fox blames himself. His daughter’s death motivates his agreement to help the ambassador. Fox’s search for answers quickly entangles him with the KGB, with a Russian crime boss, with a Party boss, and with dangers connected to the past that are less easy to identify, but he views his task as one of redemption. Only by saving Alex can he save himself. He knows he is being arrogant and messianic, and perhaps suicidal, but he doesn’t care.

The story occasionally travels back to 1945, when the Russians were taking Berlin and wanted to assure that a German physicist would travel to Moscow, where he would serve the Russian government. Certain characters who play key roles in the present story have their roots in sins of the past. Solving the mystery of Alex therefore requires Fox to solve brutal crimes from the war years.

The story holds some poignant surprises, including the true identity of an elderly woman, seemingly a bit unhinged, who is known as Wax Angel. Fox’s background is convincingly tragic, but Jack Grimwood paints him in subdued colors, not in the garish hues of melodrama. His troubled relationship with his wife evolves as the novel progresses, and Fox changes a bit, to the extent that he is capable of altering the shape of his life. The Russian mobster, dealing with the death of one son and the disappearance of another, is also a convincing character. Additional moral ambiguity fleshes out the man who, in addition to becoming Fox’s drinking companion, becomes a key to the mystery. The broken men (and a couple of damaged women) give the novel its heart.

Some aspects of the story are a bit fanciful, but Grimwood’s prose is sharp, the characters have a fair amount of depth, and the story moves quickly. All of those factors, joined with the detailed background, make Moskva a good Russian crime story. Moskva isn’t on the same level as a Martin Cruz Smith novel, but it’s only about one level down, which makes it easy to recommend.


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