The return of the mysterious Inspector Pekkala

“The Beast in the Red Forest,” the latest book in Sam Eastland’s series of literary thrillers featuring his character Inspector Pekkala was just issued in the United State. This reviewer has been waiting for new ones.

Some time ago I stumbled upon the first Pekkala novel “Eye of the Red Tsar” and was intrigued by it.

Inspector Pekkala is Finnish. He does his sleuthing in Russia. He was once the last Tsar’s chosen detective. That Tsar was overthrown by the Russian Revolution, imprisoned, and murdered. Now Inspector Pekkala has become the favorite detective of a man who had no affection for Tsars; Joseph Stalin the supreme Soviet ruler. How on earth did this turnabout occur?

This new novel cleared up some of my confusion about this series. I loved that first book. This is the fifth book. What happened to the rest? Well, the byzantine vagaries of book publishing can be vexing.

Suffice it to say that there have been some hiccups publishing these books in the United States. A publishing contract expired. It really doesn’t matter. You can read this book and quickly determine what’s transpired in the interim.

“The Beast in the Red Forest” opens with a letter postmarked in New Jersey in 1936. An American steelworker is writing to the members of his union to tell them that he’s moving to the Soviet Union. It reads like propaganda. Eight years later the disillusioned son of that letter writer will become the man who Inspector Pekkala must apprehend at any cost.

Most of this story takes place in the Ukraine during 1944. Pekkala had been on a special assignment for Stalin in 1941. Then he went missing.

Nobody has seen him since. Stalin meets with Kirov, Pekkala’s former assistant. Stalin wants to determine if Pekkala is alive or dead. He suggests that Kirov pay a visit to Pekkala’s former tailor.

The tailor provides Kirov with some peculiar clues. The search for Pekkala begins. By 1944 the German invaders were being beaten back. In the Ukraine partisans had been instrumental in dislodging the Germans.

But those partisans had little loyalty or allegiance to Stalin’s Red Army. If Stalin can locate Pekkala he hopes to insert him into a crucial situation involving the partisans.

An assassin is wreaking lethal havoc in the Ukraine. While his identity remains unknown his acts are surely meant to benefit the Germans. Only Pekkala can stop him. It is a forgone conclusion that Pekkala will resurface to try to track down this killer. People call Pekkala the Emerald Eye. He’s mildly reminiscent of Lee Child’s vengeful character Jack Reacher. You do not wish to make those fellows mad.

Within the Kremlin Stalin stews. He’s the micro-manager, a brutal control freak, and growing frustrated. At one point Stalin is expecting Pekkala to return to Moscow. The plane arrives. Pekkala is not on board. Stalin explodes: “He has defied me yet again!”

Sam Eastland gives readers non-stop action, gut wrenching suspense, circuitous story lines, a mysterious protagonist, and best of all, Stalin. There’s twisty moral ambiguity when you have this good guy, Pekkala, in service to that murdering monster, Stalin. Now I must locate the other books I have missed.

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Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Friday at 1:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 11 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, go online to www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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