The Holy Thief: A Novel

The Holy Thief: A Novel

by William Ryan


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Taut, atmospheric, and electrifying, this stunning first novel brings Stalinist-era Moscow to heart-beating life and shows us how good, how rich, and how satisfying a thriller can be.

Moscow, 1936, and Stalin's Great Terror is beginning. In a deconsecrated church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see. Captain Alexei Korolev, finally beginning to enjoy the benefits of his success with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD—the most feared organization in Russia—becomes involved. Soon, Korolev's every step is under close scrutiny and one false move will mean exile to The Zone, where enemies of the Soviet State, both real and imagined, meet their fate in the frozen camps of the far north.

Committed to uncovering the truth behind the gruesome murder, Korolev enters the realm of the Thieves, rulers of Moscow's underworld. As more bodies are discovered and pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust and who, in a Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevail, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life.

With Captain Alexei Korolev, William Ryan has given us one of the most compelling detectives in modern literature, a man dogged and humble, a man who will lead us through a fear-choked Russia to find the only thing that can save him or any of us— the truth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312552695
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/22/2011
Series: Captain Alexei Korolev Novels Series , #1
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 541,193
Product dimensions: 5.56(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

WILLIAM RYAN was born in London in 1965 and attended Trinity College, Dublin. He practiced briefly as a barrister before completing his Masters in Creative Writing at St Andrews University. His work has appeared in the short story collection, Cool Britannia. He lives in London with his wife. The Holy Thief is his first novel.

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The Holy Thief 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1936, Moscow Militia's Criminal Investigation Division Captain Alexei Korolev leads the investigation into the brutal murder of a battered woman in a church. The body's myriad of bruises indicates the victim was tortured as if the culprit sought information from the deceased. NKVD Colonel Gregorin is fascinated with the homicide that he thinks has political ties. With Gregorin assisting him, Korolev identifies the dead female woman as an American nun, who allegedly helped smuggle valuables out of the Soviet Union. When a second murder similar to that of the Sister occurs, Korolev obtains aid from a diverse cautious crew of friends and associates, wannabe Russian Baker Street Irregulars and author Isaac Babel. The key to this excellent 1930s Soviet police procedural is the Stalin internal terrorism cuts through all aspects of Moscow society; no one is immune, not even a homicide cop. That oppressive aura engulfs Korolev who wants to solve the murder case, but must not cross clearly drawn lines or someone else could be investigating his homicide. In some ways the deep look at people during the heart of Stalinism is graphic and the use of the strong investigation as a support tool to enhance how fearing Russians were makes this great thriller somewhat more a historical with a powerful whodunit investigation enabling readers to feel the stressful stench of the Stalin smog. Harriet Klausner.
lakesinger2591 More than 1 year ago
As first novels go, The Holy Thief is a pretty good one. Actually, as novels go, it's a pretty good one. The plot revolves around a Moscow militia detective, Captain Alexei Korolev, and his attempt to catch a mass murderer. What makes this a special story is the backdrop. It's Moscow in 1936. Heads are rolling, courtesy of Comrade Stalin, and there's a blanket of paranoia over the investigation. We catch glimpses of the poets and writers and underworld types who do not fully trust the militia, the militia, which doesn't trust the NKVD, or state security, and citizens who have to watch what they say for fear of something being heard by someone who will turn them in. It's a culture American detectives don't normally have to deal with. Korolev is no Arkady Renko (Gorky Park) but they are kindred spirits, I think. I liked this book. It's well worth reading and I look forward to reading Ryan's next one.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Wonderful & compelling. Kept turning the pages, what happens next!
auntmarge64 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a great beginning to a new detective series! It's 1936 Moscow, and amid the early stirrings of Stalin's purges, a police captain catches a series of nasty murders which quickly involve him with the NKVD (later the KGB) and international art smuggling by the government. It's a depressing and unnerving setting, but the characters and mystery are interesting and the dialogue is perfect. There's quite a bit of vivid victim detail, so this is not for the squeamish.One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the captain's internal musings on the new Soviet system. Unlike the main character in "Child 44", who has experienced WWII and been a knowing participant in Stalin's atrocities, the detective here still has hope for Communism, as well as a willingness to suspend judgment of Stalin's methods in hope that life will improve for ordinary citizens. The 21st-century reader, of course, contributes a sense of doom and wonderment that people could have been so naive in the face of such already-evident evil.
joaninoregon More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent book! Irst book. I've learned there are two additional books about Alexei Korolev and just purchased them today! I'll purchase anything he writes with this character.
LordVader More than 1 year ago
Great stuff and an easier read than Child 44, though obviously in the same Stalinverse. Look forward to the rest of the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good mystery. It gives insight into the difficulties of the Russian people that grew up with religion only to have to deal with their belief system when Religion is no longer allowed. This book has a good story line as well as an insight into Russian culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TdeV More than 1 year ago
THE HOLY THIEF by William Ryan © 2010 was captivating with some clever twists. For years I've complained that anyone whose life was not solely focused on a story would benefit from the help of a Cast of Characters, maps, and an index. Most memorably, William Tapply wrote that the presence of a Cast of Characters was an indicator to him of a poorly written book. THE HOLY THIEF is a case in point, and it's further complicated by the apparent Russian tendency to use the last, first and middle names in various combinations depending upon the intimacy between speakers. As it was, my attention skipped over any number of names whose history and relevance I couldn't quite remember. The setting is Moscow in 1936 where persecution of anti-Communists is pervasive and ordinary citizens are terrorized. Further, it's the onset of winter and nobody has quite enough to eat or wear. Truthfully, this is an utterly miserable place to visit. If this is reasonable portrayal of pre-war Soviet Union, then I'm demmed glad to be an impoverished capitalist. Fair warning: the crimes are gruesome. The most redeeming factor is the protagonist, Captain Alexei Dimitriyevich Korolev of the Moscow CID, a man whose charm becomes more endearing as the story wends. An usual story with a disturbing setting, but I'm glad I read THE HOLY THIEF.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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bobbewig More than 1 year ago
William Ryan's historical mystery debut, The Holy Thief, does a decent job in creating the sights, sounds and smells of life of Thirties' Moscow as well as in creating an interesting, pretty well-developed main character in Captain Alexei Korolev of Moscow's Criminal Investigation Division. The plot involves Korolev being assigned to investigate the murder of a young woman whose mutilated body is found on the altar in a desecrated church. I was sure that my interest in historical fiction and in mysteries would make The Holy Thief a book that would be right up my alley. Sadly, however, this was not the case. While I enjoyed the atmosphere Ryan creates about life in Moscow in 1936 and his main character, these positives were considerably outweighed by the very slow, almost snail-like pace of the plot. Further, Ryan never allowed me as the reader to feel that I was right there experiencing the action -- mainly because there was very little action and suspense to experience. And, when it does occur, which isn't until more than two-thirds of the way into the book, it is too little too late. As a result, the main thrill for me was finally finishing this average, at best, book so that I could move on to my next (hopefully better) book.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
Holy Thief is interesting for the period details, but has little to recommend it as a story of life in the Soviet Union in the late 1930's. A rather convoluted tale about a stolen icon, with several false leads and various tentacles of evil lurking in the sidelines make it somewhat interesting, but I sure expected more. Why it is called Holy Thief instead of Holy Theft escapes me. There was nothing holy about the thief, and, as the story winds up, nothing particularly interesting about how it all turned out.