This intriguing novella is part heist and part political drama. It focuses on the event that began Joseph Djugashvili’s journey from provincial revolutionary, poet and police informer to Joseph Stalin, the Man of Steel, who became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and one of the most powerful men in the world.
The journey begins with Lenin’s need for money to fund the Bolshevik movement. He turns to an earthy peasant revolutionary willing to do what is necessary, rather than to the theorizing intellectuals that surround him. Stalin seizes the opportunity to impress Lenin, flattered that Lenin has placed his trust in him. Stalin organizes a bank robbery and becomes a background figure pulling the strings. The character who takes centre stage is his friend Simon Ter-Persian, aka Kam. A swashbuckling figure who jumps off the page and who even Stalin thought of as a lunatic. Somehow Kam avoids killing himself in the revolutionary cause and comes to the fore during the heist.
This is a sharp, wittily told story, and rather than getting lost in the maze of political infighting of the Russian revolutionary movement, Tallerman keeps focused on the incredible real-life characters that carried out the heist. If you’re a fan of R.N. Morris’s Empire of Shadows Series/St Petersburg Mysteries, then this is definitely one for you.