THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION is breaking out all around him, but Charlie Doig has a private war to fight. Even if he dies in the attempt, he's going to track down and kill Prokhor Glebov, the Bolshevik who murdered Doig's beautiful wife, Elizaveta. Certain that Glebov will sooner or later turn up at Lenin's side, Doig makes his way to St. Petersburg. There, amidst the chaos of the Revolution, Charlie discovers that Glebov has been put in charge of the political re-education of the Tsar and his family in Ekaterinburg. The chase begins.
Having captured an armored train, Charlie and the ragtag private army he has recruited fight their way toward Siberia. Near Kazan, he hears rumors that the Tsar's gold reserves are in the city and that Glebov is also after them. He determines that he'll avenge Elizaveta and grab the gold in one swoop.
James Fleming is one of modern fiction's great stylists. His prose is marvelously robust and vivid, his plot breathtaking in its pace and excitement, and his protagonist, as the Independent said of the previous Doig novel, White Blood, is "the right kind of hero: virile, ruthless, adventurous."
Some readers may find the jaunty, jokey voice of 28-year-old naturalist Charlie Doig, the narrator of Fleming's turgid sequel to White Blood (2008), at odds with his graphic accounts of atrocities in 1917 Russia. Others, perhaps fans of the James Bond books of the author's uncle, Ian Fleming, will overlook the mismatch between tone and content. Early on, Doig comments, I'd had a beetle named after me, catalogued the passerines of Central Asia, survived typhus, had my only family members slain by the Bolsheviks and been compelled to shoot my wife. If that isn't learning the hard way, I don't know what is. Forced to put his wife out of her misery after a Bolshevik fiend raped and tortured her, Doig sets out on a quest for vengeance. A scheme to steal 690 tons of gold thickens the plot. The late George Macdonald Fraser did a far better job of combining a realistic historical backdrop with sex and violence (and humor) in his Flashman series.