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moscow-bound-coverI enjoy modern-day political thrillers as much as the next guy, but it’s always chancy when you’re dealing with a first-time novelist. I’m happy to say that Adrian Churchward delivers in spades in his new thriller, MOSCOW BOUND.

Some mild plot spoilers follow.

Scott Mitchell is an idealistic British human rights attorney who has already made an enemy of the Russian government through his past defenses of some of Moscow’s Chechen opponents in the European Court of Human Rights. He has a rocky return to Moscow after his latest legal victory – the Russians are happy to put the fear of God (or Putin) into the guy – and is soon contacted by Ekaterina Romanova, a mysterious and beautiful (is there any other kind?) woman who asks for Mitchell’s help in locating her father, a man she’s never met. He was said to have been dragged off to a gulag and murdered decades before, but Ekaterina has new evidence suggesting he’s been alive, somewhere, all these years. Mitchell reluctantly agrees to help, but all of the people who might be able to shed light on the matter have a way of ending up dead before they offer much help. The pair soon run afoul of a general in Russian military intelligence who seems determined to prevent them from locating Ekaterina’s father because their investigation seems to tread dangerously close to a Vietnam War-era operation that has been ongoing for the last four decades. That seems like it should be ancient history, so why are people so willing to kill to prevent the truth from coming out?

I hesitate to reveal the exact nature of the mystery and why people are coming out of the woodwork to prevent the secret from getting at (it really is the core of the book’s plot). Suffice it to say that while MOSCOW BOUND’s plot hangs together just fine as a stand-alone novel, it is labeled as the first volume in the forthcoming “Puppet Meisters” trilogy (will the Germans inexplicably become involved at some point?). I hope to see the central mystery that is revealed at the end of MOSCOW BOUND (I won’t spoil that ending here) expanded, as it came in a bit of a rush. Some elaboration on the implications of the mystery at the core of this novel would help.

Churchward understands what it’s like to live and work in contemporary Russia, and necessarily navigate the complexities of Russian law, bureaucracy, and abuses of state power. While we have all the archetypal characters of this kind of “Ludlum” style political thriller – idealistic crusader; woman with a mysterious past; clever, tough, implacable foe, etc. – Churchward does a good job of bringing his characters to life. At times the pace dragged a bit, and I found myself wanting a dramatis personae to help keep all the names straight at times, but it’s an engaging story.

Recommended for those interested in thrillers set in contemporary Russia. I will be curious to see where Churchward and his characters take the story in the rest of the Puppet Meisters trilogy.

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Review copyright © 2014 J. Andrew Byers