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Monday, May 16, 2016

The Red Icon --- The Secret of Its Mysterious Disappearance and Multiple Destructions

Red Icon (Inspector Pekkala, #6)Red Icon by Sam Eastland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An icon, The Shepard, is center stage in St George's Hall of the Winter Palace in summer, 1914. Gathered in the Hall are a huge crowd to watch Tsar Nicholas pray before this national treasure and object of great religious devotion. Though the artist is unknown, the icon has been handed down over hundreds of years among the Tsars and it is thought that so long as the icon is kept safe, Russia will remain safe. When not on public view it is kept in the Church of the Resurrection, the Tsar's private chapel on the estate of the summer residence.

As the war with Germany becomes more dangerous, the Tsarina convinces the Tsar to move the icon from the Chapel to the apartment of Rasputin for safe keeping. Pekkala is made aware of the transfer and Nicholas' reluctance to comply. It is not long in the hands of Rasputin before the precious icon is stolen while he is on one of his lengthy nocturnal absences. Strangely, the Tsar does not want to allow Pekkala to search for it and eventually, it seems, it falls into the hands of a deranged priest who destroys it.

Years later, during yet another war, two Soviet officers taking refuge in the cellar of a destroyed Church many miles from St Petersburg, inadvertently dislodge a weathered casket. One of them had used it as a step to see within the Church since they had hidden to avoid detection by German soldiers. In an effort to see if the coast was clear, the officer stepped onto the coffin and the aged wood collapsed allowing his leg to fall into the coffin and onto the remains within it. The corpse is of a priest who has within his clasped hands an oil cloth covered item which turns out to be the long lost Shepard.

Stalin sends for Pekkala and Kirov and gives them the mission to discover whether this is the true icon and how exactly it came to be in the hands of a priest so far away. In true Eastland fashion, the story unfolds with travels throughout Russia and encounters with various interesting characters, including a priest belonging to a sect that requires partial or total castration of its followers. There is a foray into Finland to find an elderly woman, a confidante of the late Tsarina. And there is the use of chemical weapons and their development by the Germans and the effort to keep the chemical breakthroughs secret from the Allies.

The story flies by and the mystery of the disappearing and reappearing icon has a twist that is totally unforeseen. A terrific read, as always

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