Williams, Andrew - 'To Kill a Tsar'
Dr Frederick Hadfield is an Anglo-Russian living amongst the prominent section of the ex-patriot British community is St Petersburg in 1879. He is a widely respected doctor, who because he is bilingual in Russian and English, treats both wealthy Russian patients and the British living in the city. He was educated in England and lived in Zurich, Switzerland with his family, before moving to St Petersburg which was the capital city of Russia at that time. Hadfield meets by chance a beautiful woman, Anna, who acts as his nurse when he does medical duties for poorer peasant patients on his Sundays off. He is very attracted to her, but she is a dedicated member of a revolutionary political party called the "The People's Will". These are nihilists adamant in their intention of overthrowing the existing political hierarchy led by Tsar Alexander II. A member of their organisation attempts to shoot the Tsar with a pistol about five times but unbelievably misses because of nervousness and is arrested and executed. There are further assassination attempts.
Dr Hadfield frequently meets Anna and even though she is of a lower class he is smitten and can't get enough of her company. They start a very poignant love affair. It is a very dangerous time with lots of secret police who will stop at nothing to arrest and torture members of The People's Will. There are also a lot of poor people in minor official roles in the pay of the police. So throughout the story there is an underlying tension of whether the police will arrest Anna and her accomplices before they can successfully kill the Tsar or will even Dr Hadfield be arrested for consorting with known revolutionaries. The story continues in this vein until the exciting conclusion.
I was totally absorbed in this very gripping, sensational historical mystery, with a factual basis and with the nail biting tension of whether the protagonists will be arrested or not. This is only the author's second novel and yet it was short-listed for both the Walter Scott Prize and the CWA Ellis Peters Award. The depth of research that the author undertook with this book is to be applauded. I was completely captivated by the very tightly plotted depth of this story which I think is the best historical romantic mystery that I have had the pleasure of reading this year. I hope to include it on my top five books of 2011.
If you enjoy a marvellously evocative historical mystery then this is the next one to buy if you have not done so already.
Terry Halligan, England