Carole Tyrrell worked in the theatre for nearly 10 years and was always fascinating by the way death and the supernatural formed many of the greatest and most enduring works. She has read crime fiction for many years and enjoys the broad range of the genre.
It's 1939 and the world is poised for war. The major players are waiting to see who pushes the button first and Stalin is keeping a watchful eye on Hitler. Inspector Pekkala, or the Emerald Eye as the Tsar dubbed him, begins to hear of the Konstantin Project and the T-34 tank. This is supposed to be Russia's superweapon. Pekkala is a man who moves with the times and the changes in rulers. Once he served the Imperial Family as a member of the Okhrana, the Tsar's secret police and now he works for Stalin. Pekkala seems almost trapped by his past as he recalls it in flashbacks; the Tsar, Pekkala's lost love, Ilya, now married and living in Paris, his time as a prisoner in Siberia. When they arrive at the Konstantin Project research facility, they discover the T-34's designer, Colonel Nagorski, crushed beneath it. The T-34 is having teething problems and there are concerns for the safety of the men inside it. These have led to it being dubbed 'The Red Coffin' of the title.
Nagorski's death initially appears to be an accident but Pekkala soon proves that it's murder. But who killed him? The elusive White Guild? An escaping shadow in the forest? As Pekkala pursues the truth he uncovers sabotage, ignored safety concerns and a plot to ensure that the impending warinvolves Russia and Germany first.
I really enjoyed this book. Pekkala's memories of life under the Tsar and a bygone life, the evocative descriptions of towns, scenes, peasants working the land and borscht poured like blood in to bowls. These all painted a vivid picture of a country still in a state of flux as the storm clouds gather.
Pekkala is a complex man who fully understands the workings of the state, ambitious colleagues and his own status as a holder of a Shadow Pass and thus an outsider. He's survived the Revolution and is now one of Stalin's most trusted policemen. Stalin weaves in and out of the narrative almost as a bit part player.
This is the second Inspector Pekkala mystery and establishes him firmly in Stalin’s entourage. It is certainly a page turner of a book with enough neatly resolved twists and turns to keep any thriller fan happy.