This novel reads like a memoir. Born in 1889, Charlie Doig had an English father and a Russian mother. He tells us of his years at an English boarding school, where he learnt to fend for himself, and of working as a naturalist in Burma and Russian Turkestan, assistant to a renowned German. All this is necessary backdrop to the main drama: his return to his mother’s family home near Smolensk, and his love for his cousin Elizaveta, although sentences like “that was where it all started, in the spring of 1915” and, later, “I write of the way in which we found them, both the dead and the single living person” made me feel I was not experiencing events with Charlie as they happened. Nonetheless, this is a tense and absorbing read. At first, Charlie’s Russian relatives in the Pink House, a mile through the forest from the village, are untouched by the war. After the Tsar’s abdication in 1917, however, the old certainties no longer hold. What follows is a harrowing tale of obsession and revenge. I was steeling myself for a barbaric dénouement when events took a different turn. The end left me wondering what really did happen to Charlie. Very atmospheric, with a tremendous feeling of place and time, and some moving prose: I was particularly struck by the metaphor of the sun “crouched, a vast battered eye half closed by the afternoon shadows” as the revolution encroaches on the Pink House.