Red Winter

Written by Dan Smith
Review by Cindy Vallar

What began as a revolution to overthrow the tsar has devolved into civil war, and anyone deemed an enemy of the state is summarily executed. Koyla can no longer stomach such brutal and senseless killing. To survive he must go home, but desertion from the Red Army will make him a traitor. To thwart pursuit, he stages his death. The long trek home is fraught with danger, but thoughts of reuniting with his wife and sons drive him onward. When he arrives, though, the remote village is deserted.

Have the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, taken his family? Are they dead? His search turns up only the tortured and massacred bodies of the men from his village. Then whispers reach him of a possible perpetrator of this mass killing – Koschei, The Deathless One; but he’s just a folk tale. Koyla has no answers, but is determined to unravel the mystery and find his wife and sons. Time, however, is running out. If the men tracking him catch Koyla, he will die.

Told in the first person, Red Winter is a riveting tale of the Red Terror that swept through Russia after Lenin came to power. Smith recreates the horrible atrocities and constant danger so vividly you can’t help but glance over your shoulder. Each character and incident is memorable, so much so that the day may be sweltering as you read, but the wintry chills make you shiver. Smith transports you back in time to 1920 and rural Russia with the skill of a master storyteller. Once ensnared, he compels you to turn each page regardless of whether it’s to witness more despicable crimes or to grasp the lifeline of hope that compassion still exists and that Koyla will find his family. Highly recommended.