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.
The writer’s website is here.