Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Twelfth Department

William Ryan
The Twelfth Department

Mantle, 2013

After a hot Odessa the action of the third book of the series about the captain of the Moscow police Korolev returns to Moscow. Detective Korolev takes a week off and plans to spend it with his son Yuri who suddenly decided to come visit his father (little Yuri lives with Korolev’s ex-wife Zhenya) on the dacha of the writer Isaac Babel in the suburbs. Korolev is very glad to arrival of his son, but to spend a week with him is not meant to be. In a government building near the Kremlin scientist Azarov, after whom is named Research Institute, is killed, and Korolev is assaigned to investigate the crime, as a detective, who can be trusted with delicate matters. Captain has time to only see the part of the aspects of the case (and among them the most important is that Azarov was engaged in secret research of the human brain), as NKVD officers remove him from the case, letting him know he is to forget about investigation and forget about all that he found out.

But Azarov’s Deputy, Shtange, is killed and another NKVD officer asks Koorlev to return to the investigation and even gives the confused detective a trusted paper, signed by Yezhov. But the security officers of the Twelfth Department, special department, don’t leave Korolev alone, which leads to running away from the dacha of little Yuri. Korolev has to investigate the two muddy murders, where the secrets of the state are mixed, and the son of Korolev is being looked for by all the Moscow police, and worst of all, NKVD, which Korolev crossed the road.

Books by William Ryan are different from the usual historical mysteries placed in Soviet Russia by the fact that here a detective is investigating not the ordinary murders, but the ones where the State Security is mixed in. Ryan continues this trend in The Twelfth Department. This novel is perhaps the most personal Korolev’s case. At stake there is not only the freedom and the life of the main character (as it was in the previous two books), but also the freedom of the family of the detective. Koorlev's ex-wife is being investigated by the State Security, and maybe she could face life in camp. Son of Korolev falls into the clutches of dangerous security officers who use Yuri as a means of control of his father. Korolev has to choose between professional honesty and the health of his son, but given the fact that Korolev has dangerous enemies in the face of the officers of the Twelfth Department, the detective would have been happy to face Kolyma, not death.

Ryan continues to draw a few lines from the previous books. Here again there is Kolya, Chief Authority of the Moscow Thieves, which almost becomes a friend to Korolev. Slivka, detective from Odessa from the previous book in the series, is now working in Moscow under Korolev. Ryan continues to pull a romantic line, bringing together Korolev and his neighbor in the kommunalka Valentina.

The plot of this novel is a classic whodunnit, where Korolev, following the textbook, interrogates witnesses, examines the crime scene, relies on forensic tests. After 200 pages the plot starts to sag a little, when Korolev discusses the same information with different characters, new turns are not on the way, you can start yawning. Ryan is not the strongest plotter: the amount of twists here are very modest, but there are multiple coincedences, which keeps the plot going. For example, what is the chance that in the security officers’ trap will fall not only the son of Korolev, but the son of Thief Kolya, as well? And just the same, that the arrival of Yuri coincides with the investigation, where children, particularly orphans, are mixed in the case.

But Ryan is sensitive to the details: you sometimes do not even say that the novel is written by Irishman, who has not even lived in Russia, not by a Soviet immigrant or our contemporary living in Russia. However, there are errors and omissions. So, Ryan calls Korolev’s little son Yuri, not Yura, and the author makes Stalin General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, although in 1937, the party was called the name of the All-Soviet Communist Party (b). British dimensional system looks unnatural here: if you decided to write about the Soviet Union, be Soviet all around, using meters instead of feet.

Still, the best moments of the book are those where Korolev doesn’t question anybody and chases nobody. The most interesting to read scenes are, as Korolev is sitting in the park and looking at the resting crowd, goes to the zoo with his son and the neighbor, sunbathes with his son on the river. Ryan's prose in these moments especially radiates humanity.

Perhaps William Ryan should try himself in the so-called mainstream fiction. The writer has all skills for that.

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