Ghelfi, Brent - 'Volk's Game'
On paper, VOLK'S GAME by Brent Ghelfi is everything I would normally hate about thrillers - it's violent, with lots of guns and an ex-military protagonist; set in a world involving prostitution and drugs; it takes place mostly in a cold part of Northern Europe; oh, and it's about a lost painting by Leonardo Da Vinci.
I was fully prepared to detest this book. So, why didn't I?
It gripped me from the very first page. Alexei Volkovoy is not a nice man - he's a hired gun for both the Russian mafia and the military, he runs an empire of prostitution and pornography - but the writing gets you past all that and reveals a complex and interesting character. In this book, and I'm really looking forward to more, Volk gets involved in the heist of a picture that contains, hidden in the frame, a long-lost masterpiece by Da Vinci. It's not his usual type of operation, but a job's a job. This one's different though. Everyone wants a piece of this, and for their own reasons. Trusted friends turn traitor, even his employers are not to be trusted. Volk needs to work out who and what is the genuine article - and it's a race for life or death for Volk's lover Valya.
This is a seriously good thriller, fast paced and unflinching, set among the detritus of Moscow's filthy underworld. It has a bleak and unrelenting view of the world, a world where life means nothing and only crime seems to pay. It's so not my sort of book, but it completely won me over.
Ghelfi has been compared to Lee Child and there are similarities, both with ex-military protagonists, although Jack Reacher is some kind of wandering avenging angel and Alexei Volkovoy is certainly not that. He's force of nature - like Jack Reacher with a skewed moral compass, completely lacking in scruples. I loved him. I read that Ghelfi is working on a sequel. I can't wait.
Pat Austin, England
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