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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Inspector Pekkala Rides Again!

Shadow Pass (Inspector Pekkala #2)Shadow Pass by Sam Eastland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eye of the Red Tsar, the first in the series about Inspector Pekkala, was a Good Reads giveaway I'd won over a year ago. I loved the book, gave it a great review, passed it on to friends, made a note to follow the series and then became engrossed in many other books and forgot about keeping track of the author's new books. Recently, looking for something new to read I came upon Shadow Pass and decided to order it. It is as good or better than the first installment.

Inspector Pekkala is a Finn who served the Russian Tsar as his personal inspector of whatever the Tsar wanted investigated. With the fall of the Romanovs, Pekkala found himself in Siberia where he found himself lonely but with some latitude in his confinement and developed a way of survival and a bit of contentment. When bones were found buried outside of Ekaterinberg, Stalin found it useful to release Pekkala and have him investigate the bones, how they got there and whether or not they were the remains of the Romanovs.

Shadow Pass picks up Pekkala's story in the service of Stalin. The Russians are developing a new supertank as Hitler is rising in Germany. It is, of course, top secret but deaths occur at the development facility and Pekkala must determine who is behind them and why. There are many threads to this mystery, all of which seem to lead to the answer but only one, as is often the case, solves the crime. But, what is not always the case, the reader is as baffled as the Inspector and his young assistant, Kirov, until the very end when all the questions are answered and Pekkala and Kirov are ready to move on to the next crime.

There are many reasons to like Sam Eastland and his characters. He hooks the reader with the very first sentence of his narrative " As the motorcycle crested the hill,sunlight winked off the goggles of the rider." He goes on to describe the attire and luggage of the man and the conditions of his ride. Immediately, one hops on the back of the bike and heads into the woods to hunker down with a can of cold soup and a night sleeping on the cold ground --wondering where is this rider headed, why is he being so cautious --is he good or is he bad? What is his mission?

Eastland's descriptive language paints a scene or creates a photo of it in the mind: " On the water, a man sat in a rowboat.......Around the man,tiny insects swirled like bubbles in champagne." Because familiar scenes are presented so realistically the reader is able to see those that are not familiar with clarity. Walking through an old swimming pool building converted to a research laboratory with the characters is an experience that feels totally real.

Pekkala is a man of secrets. Even his young sidekick, Kirov, knows little about his past. The relationship between the men is warm, paternalistic in Pekkala's case. Kirov is constantly trying to get him to dress more modernly, eat more slowly with appreciation for his food. Pekkala is frustrated with Kirov's always forgetting his weapon and needles him about leaving it behind because he is a poor shot, hardly the case. As in real life, these interactions are momentary in a day's work, but humorous and warm when they occur.

The author allows us to know more about Pekkala than those around him through the use of flashbacks. Unlike those used in other books, where, rather than illumination, the reader becomes confused and disoriented, these, too, occur naturally. Something that he sees, or hears, or smells, triggers in Pekkala a memory and that memory is shared with the reader and set outside the story by the use of italics. And like a memory, they are short and fleeting and hardly cause a ripple in the flow. Yet, these memories create a familiarity with and closeness to Inspector Pekkala. Like Kirov, the reader cares about him and wants to be by his side on his next assignment.

It would appear that Pekkala is headed back to prison in Arkive 17 and Kirov is remaining behind in Moscow. My Amazon order is about to be placed. For now, ignoring the kumquats on the desk, like Pekkala, I'm going to smile and keep walking until it arrives.

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