#BlogTour- Ben Creed – City of Ghosts

Leningrad, Russia, 1951. The shadow of war lingers. Revol Rossel – once a virtuoso violinist with a glittering future – is now a humble state militia cop, forced to investigate desperate crimes in this desperate era. But when five frozen corpses are found neatly arranged between railway lines, Rossel is faced with the most puzzling – and most dangerous – case of his career. His hunt for the truth leads him to the dark heart of Leningrad’s musical establishment, and, ultimately, to the highest levels of the Kremlin itself. It’s a world he knows intimately. A world where his dreams were shattered. A world where a killer may now be hiding…

Take a trip with me if you will into the heart of Stalinist Russia in this rich and vivid debut novel, City of Ghosts by Ben Creed. Perfect for fans of Gorky Park, Child 44 and The Holy Thief, I was incredibly impressed with this chilling and increasingly disturbing thriller…

The absolute stand out feature of this novel is the sheer richness and wealth of historical and social detail, without it disrupting the natural flow of the plot itself, and with a real sense of keeping the reader engaged with this extra level of interest. There is a strong sense of historical authenticity running through the book from the outset, and if, like me, your knowledge of this particularly fraught and dangerous period of Soviet history is largely superficial, there is so much to be gleaned. Corruption is rife, abject poverty strongly in evidence but largely ignored by the higher echelons of power, and Creed paints an incredibly convincing picture of a society and city still bearing the wounds of the Second World War. There are numerous references to the debilitating siege of the city, the reverberation of the incredible stress and want that this caused, and yet the fierce sense of survival that arose in the populace to overcome this torrid time.

In a society riven with fear and suspicion, where a single slip of the tongue can lead to a lengthy sojourn in a Siberian gulag, or an instant death sentence, Creed captures this atmosphere perfectly throughout. In the dialogue between characters, there is a hesitation and procrastination, and a sense that no-one can be trusted with relationships, both professional and personal formed with this lingering mistrust. The reader, too, learns quickly that not everyone is as they seem, and this adds to the overarching darkness of the plot itself where a clever and twisted killer goes about their business. 

Revol Rossel, the state militia cop is an incredibly deep and interesting individual, whose moral core and sense of right is put under a huge amount of pressure as the case proceeds. With a flurry of flashbacks and glimpses into his past as an aspiring and talented musician, we again bear witness to the power of the state to suppress its citizens, crushing their hopes and dreams and wreaking violence and fear amongst them. Rossel is sensitive and caring and on the surface seems wholly unsuited to his role as a harbinger of the rules and regulations that so strictly dictate society, and this makes him a compelling and interesting character. As it becomes apparent that the hideous discovery that opens the book, may be in some way related to his previous life, Creed really puts Rossel through the emotional wringer, but never losing sight of the qualities that some of his colleagues regard as ineffectual imbue Rossel with a strength and decency that proves so valuable in this extremely testing investigation. The book is incredibly rich in characterisation from Rossel’s militia cohorts, to figures from his past (in some of the most touching scenes I have read for some while), and those that come under his investigative scrutiny too. 

I have read quite a few books set in this particular period, and can honestly say that Creed does bring something new and fresh to this genre of crime fiction. I loved the deeper cultural richness of this book, as some of it revolves around the world of classical music, with some intriguing clues being woven into this thread of the novel. Peppered with Russian phrases and a brilliant obscenity that I have now formally adopted (behind my mask of course) City of Ghosts felt incredibly authentic from the outset. Bolstered by the skilful weaving in of history and politics, I found this an enthralling and clever thriller, steeped in the feel of the period and the sinister atmosphere of fear and darkness in a totalitarian state. Recommended.  

 (With thanks to Welbeck Publishing for the ARC) 

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(With thanks to Welbeck Publishing for the ARC)

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