The Darkening Field

Written by William Ryan
Review by John R. Vallely

Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia’s Criminal Investigation Division is ordered to Odessa, Ukraine, to look into the suspicious suicide of a young actress. On the surface, this would appear to be a rather routine matter for an experienced and veteran policeman. However, the term “routine” is not part of the vocabulary in the 1937 period of the Great Purge in the paranoid and vicious world of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Korolev must tread lightly as he comes to understand that the dead woman was the mistress of a powerful local Communist Party official. If Korolev brings the party into his work, then he knows he will be the one who suffers. A decent man who has trouble navigating the dangers of law enforcement in a system outside of any law, Korolev works his way through the lies, cover-ups, and half-truths to uncover a Ukraine with nationalist underground movements pledged to liberate the region from Stalin and his murderous policies. Odessa and its people present problems Korolev has not been confronted with in his native Moscow, and the fact that he has no other resources save his own intelligence sends him chasing down many false leads that keep both the good captain and the reader guessing.

I have not read The Holy Thief, Korolev’s first case. I shall not hesitate to do so now.