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The Twelfth Department (Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev) by William Ryan
Cover Artist: Photos: Sky by Michaela Stejskalova; buildings by E.O. / Shutterstock
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312586522
Date: 09 July 2013 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Captain Alexei Korolev is investigating the shooting death of a despicable scientist, Boris Vadimovich Azarov; he was the director of the Azarov Institute where horrible experiments were being conducted on humans, most of them children. Soon afterwards, another scientist working at the institute is gruesomely murdered. Korolev uncovers a deadly conspiracy involving the institute and the mysterious Twelfth Department. Korolev's visiting twelve-year-old son, Yuri, is taken hostage in order to guarantee that Korolev will bring the case to a quick, but erroneous, end.

William Ryan's The Twelfth Department (following The Darkening Field and The Holy Thief) was extremely intriguing because of its unique setting. Living in Socialist Moscow between WWI and WWII would be as alien to me as living on another planet. The evil government, referred to as The Party, wants everyone to think and behave like loyal automatons. It is a society where the atmosphere is heavy laden with paranoia and fear. It is not surprising that many Muscovites are alcoholics. Everyone spies on everyone else. Neighbors accuse each other of being traitors in order to have them arrested, and then move into their vacated apartments.

Several families often share cramped living quarters. Religion, art work, and literature are suppressed and scrutinized. Korolev still hides his bible under the floorboards. He is a man of faith with high moral values; he tries to uphold justice. He cannot turn away when innocents are being abused. Consequently, his life is in danger. His own son, Yuri, who has been living with his ex-wife, Zhenia, is alien to him. He fears the child. The Party is brainwashing Yuri as it is with all the children. Teachers are instructing their pupils that the older citizens cannot be trusted; they are not true Socialists.

This novel filled me with fear--fear for the main characters' lives and fear for my own life in the present day United States. It is palpable fear that maintained the novel's fast pacing throughout. Some of the more downtrodden, undesirable characters, such as Count Kolya, the Chief Authority of the Moscow Thieves, are depicted as heroes. Kolya rebels against the system. I grew to admire him as the plot unfolded. Korolev relies heavily upon the help of Kolya and his fellow thieves. He also relies upon the assistance of his female sergeant, Slivka. I was surprised The Party allowed females in the CID. However, she is treated as a man, without special regards for her gender.

Fans of historical mysteries will definitely want to read the tremendously researched The Twelfth Department. When I read one of William Ryan's Alexei Korolev mysteries, I feel that I have been transported back in time--a time that is definitely not simple or peaceful, but wrought with unspeakable horrors that were similar to those found during the Spanish Inquisition when citizens were accused of heresy and tortured to death. The mystery in The Twelfth Department is intriguing but is strongly overshadowed by its setting and characterization. In fact, the real mystery is not the murders of the scientists but learning what nightmares are transpiring inside the walls of the Azarov Institute.

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