Review: The Beast In The Red Forest – Sam Eastland

The Beast In The Red Forest Sam EastlandInspector Pekkala 5

My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction The Soviet Union, Second World War
First published:
My copy:
Faber & Faber
Published: 2015

From the cover:

A soldier returns from the frontline of battle to report that Inspector Pekkala’s charred body has been found at the site of an ambush. But Stalin refuses to believe that the indomitable Pekkala is dead.

On Stalin’s orders, Pekkala’s assistant, Kirov, travels deep into the forests of Western Russia, following a trail of clues to a wilderness where partisans wage a brutal campaign against the Nazi invaders.

Unknown to Kirov, he is being fed into a trap.

I have put together a Speesh Reads Pinterest board for Sam Eastland’s The Beast of the Red Forest, well worth a visit, comrade

The Inspector Pekkala novels from ‘Sam Eastland’ (you know what i’m saying), are absolutely superb, all of them, every single one. This is too. And then some.

For some reason, the previous book (number four, The Red Moth), was treated then, and is at the start here (number five), as an ending, and this is a new start of a sort. Why, I don’t know. It’s there on the cover as “The fifth Inspector Pekkala novel will delight fans and newcomers alike.” While inside, there is, especially in the first half, plenty of what has gone on before, not just of what happened in The Red Moth, but also plenty of Pekkala’s own background. There is a natural break in the timeline, as after the previous book finishing and this one starting, Pekkala has been ‘missing’ for – as Kirov, revealing the affection he feels for the awkward cuss, tells Stalin – “over two years, three months, five days.” Other than that…there doesn’t really seem to be a need for such a break, the story continues, almost, as if the break didn’t happen. It reads like the characters have just been in a kind of limbo, waiting for Pekkala to be found, then they carry on, almost, as if nothing has happened. Of course it does add to Pekkala’s mystique, but he had that in spades already. But also, the wrongness of saying missing and found when referring to Pekkala is obvious to those of us who have been on his case from the start. Pekkala went missing for other people, not himself and he was only found by the others, when he wanted to be. I know I’m talking as though Pekkala is a real person, but reading these superb stories, you kinda get that way.

Pekkala takes the story and Kirov (amongst others) to the western front for the Soviets and the Eastern Front for the Germans. Ukraine, to be specific. Where the border was, and probably is again, ‘fluid.’ The Germans capture areas, then the Soviets capture them back, then the Germans re-take them, then the Soviets…you know. The Ukrainians? They’re in the middle getting killed by both sides. And it wasn’t over when kindly Uncle Joe finally re-took the area for good…not good at all. All the elements that have made th series unmissable are still here, finely drawn, intriguing characters, a superb plot, the enigmatic, withdrawn, always interesting Pekkala and Kirov. Well, he comes more into it here, especially as Pekkala doesn’t appear for 90 pages or so. And Poskrebychev, Stalin’s Secretary – well, who’d have thought? Fortunately, the comedy routines between him and Stalin have been tones down some more – apart from one – and that just adds to the sense of foreboding, of impending doom, of micro-management, of uncertainty, shifting changes of will that there should be.

It’s not as terribly austere as Tom Rob Smith’s series, or William Ryan’s all that is there, and Pekkala has surely gone through much more than the main characters of those series, but with Pekkala you get the feeling that he could not only survive anything, but could, would, walk away when he saw the final writing on the wall, and, though he wouldn’t admit it, look after his friends as well.

The Beast In The Red Forest is a quite superb book.

You can buy The Beast In The Red Forest at The Book Depository

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