Review: William Ryan – The Bloody Meadow

The Bloody Meadow is the second book in the series set in 1930s Stalinist Russia featuring Militia Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev, who we first met in the excellent The Holy Thief.

In The Bloody Meadow, the purges of Stalin continue unabated. When one night Korolev is summoned by Colonel Rodinov of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, Korolev assumes he is under arrest and picks up the bag he has already packed in anticipation of the fateful ‘knock on the door’. In fact, Korolev is ordered to the Ukraine to investigate the death of a young film assistant, Maria Alexandrovna Lenskaya, who was the mistress of a high ranking official. The woman died whilst working on the set of ‘The Bloody Meadow’, a Communist propaganda movie being shot near Odessa on the Black Sea.

Korolev quickly establishes that the woman was murdered and once again, to investigate the case, he has to pick his way through the treachery of officialdom and the close knit honour amongst the ‘thieves’, Moscow’s organised crime elite.

The opening passage of the book describes Korolev making an arrest at ‘Workers Hostel Seven’, a building teeming with displaced workers, exiled priests and poverty stricken women and children. The passage not only introduces us to the underbelly of Stalin’s Moscow but also sets the scene for the rest of the book. We get a sense of the paranoia pervading all of society, from both within the police and amongst ordinary people. Only the ‘thieves’ seem immune from the backstabbing and trickery of Communist rule, largely because they have their own code of honour as restrictive as Stalin’s.

There were less graphic descriptions of violence in this book than in The Holy Thief, although there was a pervading sense of menace throughout. The decision to set the book outside Moscow and in the countryside of the Ukraine gave the book an interesting perspective, and you never lost the sense of the much documented atrocities committed by the Soviet army against the native Ukrainians during the period.

Korlev continues to be an interesting character, and once more we see glimpses of the conflict between Communist atheism and the vestiges of the Orthodox church which has gone underground but is remembered by the ordinary people, including Korolev.

I enjoyed reading this latest book in what is an excellent series and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

The book has been published in the US as The Darkening Field.

Other reviews can be found at The View from the Blue House, Mean Streets, My Place for Mystery and Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

The writer’s website is here.

15 thoughts on “Review: William Ryan – The Bloody Meadow

  1. Sarah – A top-notch review, for which thanks! I agree completely that Ryan does an excellent job of conveying both the creeping sense of menace and the political climate of the times. I was also impressed by the sense of place – I mean geographic place – in the story. Korolev, to me, is an interesting character; I look forward to seeing what happens next in his life. And his interactions with Kolya the Thief are particularly well-drawn I thought.

    • Yes I agree Margot that Korolev is getting more interesting as the series progresses. And Kolya is an interesting character too – I was pleased to see him again in this book.

  2. Nice review Sarah – his first was so good I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this one. Are the photographer and the drunk pathologist in this one? I thought they were great supporting characters.

    • Chestnova isn’t in this book Rich but I’m sure she will make a reappearance as she is such a strong character. I’m afraid I couldn’t remember the photographer from the first book, but he’s not in book 2. It’s good that the writer can create such a strong cast of characters.

  3. Nice review, Sarah. I think Korolev is one of the most interesting fictional detectives around. I have reviewed the Holy Thief and the Bloody Meadow on my blog, and am looking forward to the third of William Ryan’s Korolev novels. I think he does an amazing job of conjuring up the atmosphere of the times. You draw attention to the the opening section of the Bloody Meadow. This is, I agree, a tour de force.

  4. Pingback: The Best of June’s Reading « crimepieces

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