Randolph, our sentient, literary loving and Holmes-like black Labrador Retriever and his owner Harry are back. A Dog at Sea opens with exactly that: Randolph and Harry are on a cruise ship, the Nordic Bliss, sailing from New York to Curaçao where they hope to find the missing lady of the house, Imogen. (This is the third in the series and in book one, A Dog About Town, Imogen left to buy a loaf of bread and never returned home; they’ve been on her trail since.)
They now realise that Imogen is on the run, for she is under threat from people who wish to gain from the massive inheritance coming her way in respect of uranium. So, as Imogen hides, Harry and Randolph do their best to ensure that they don’t lead the criminals to her. How best to travel “under cover”? A pet lovers’ cruise. The Nordic Bliss is jam-packed with heavy product placement and marketing, canine “experts”, frighteningly hard core animal trainers and, of course, animals. And where the cruise is no different to any other, there is plenty of delicious food on offer. Alas, Randolph is very quickly spotted for what he is: an overweight dog with under active thyroid and his penchant for Chinese takeaways and pigs in blankets (his personal cruise special) is severely put to the test.
Following the success of Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, it’s not surprising that 2010 brings a batch of novels that appear a tad copycat. With the cover of Eye of the Red Tsar, you can be forgiven for thinking this, but whatever you do, don’t let cynicism stop you reading this novel. On the surface, the similarities may appear rife: Stalin’s Russia and a plot involving brothers. However, the styles are quite different and Eye of the Red Tsar is stronger on plot, delivering a dénouement that is both credible and satisfying. So what’s it all about?
Inspector Pekkala is living in a gulag, working as a tree-marker, and has outlived the average life of a tree-marker through determination and ingenuity in extreme conditions. Previously, he had been the Tsar’s right hand man and given considerable powers, frightening to many. When the revolution came he was sidelined, thought by those fearful many to be dead. But one day, in that gulag, Pekkala is called upon, given a task and offered a reward. Stalin wants Pekkala to determine which men killed the Tsar and his family, and to locate the Tsar’s treasure. The task re-unites Pekkala with his long-estranged brother and trust, or the lack of, remains a question hanging over both in their renewed relationship.
‘It is the summer of 1982 and Beirut is under siege…’
This is the world that Ivan inhabits. A mere eighteen years old, his parents were recently evacuated from the city with other cadres of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Ivan remains behind, for reasons we do not know, but he has a role as an interpreter for the various international medical volunteers within the Sabra refugee camp. When not performing that duty, Ivan works undercover for the PLO, delivering false ID documents.
At eighteen, Ivan is embarking on the adult world. And for a novel with a potentially depressing and dark storyline, Ivan’s age proves uplifting and the source of unexpected humour. With hormones raging and a virginity he looks forward to shedding, he knows where he wants to look but still has the nuances of the social subtleties to learn. The older Eli, a Norwegian physiotherapist is the subject of his immediate focus. He is drawn to her both emotionally and physically, as well as working alongside her at the hospital.