Monday, May 27, 2013

Inspector Pekkala Mysteries by Sam Eastland

I recently came across the first Inspector Pekkala mystery when browsing through the NYPL's audiobooks.  I regularly look for books to occupy myself during the long trips from NY to Boston and for my walks around Brooklyn.

I've filled my iPhone with more books than I can listen to - an embarrassment of riches.  But it's the wide choices and free access to audiobooks that has allowed me to sample and come across gems.  My latest favorite find has been Inspector Pekkala - a character created by Sam Eastland.

Inspector Pekkala is a Finn, who began his career in the Royal Finnish Guards and was discovered by Tsar Nicholas Romanov and trained to serve as an independent detective.  He is a man unlike any other in that he is not motivated by greed, power, or anything beyond the desire to perform the task for which he was born - to seek the truth.  The Tsar has a deep respect for Pekkala and creates a position specially for him and Pekkala is known as the Emerald Eye.  The Emerald Eye has unlimited power and authority to investigate anyone and arrest anyone - no one is above his reach, even the Tsar.

The first book in the series opens with the end of the Romanovs. Inspector Pekkala is the last of his kind, the only of his kind and is in the outskirts of the gulag in Siberia.  He's been given a task that usually kills prisoners within 6 months but he's on his 8th year of his sentence of marking trees in the forest.  He is surprised to find a young political agent by his cottage - and orders from the political office calling Pekkala back to civilization.

We discover that Pekkala is a legend in his time - respected by the people and by his enemies.  Even Stalin recognizes Pekkala's value and it is this that calls him back for a special mission.  Stalin orders Pekkala to find out whether the Romanovs survived, to catch the assassins who may have murdered the Romanovs and to find the Romanov treasure.  Stalin promises that if Pekkala finds the bodies and solves the mystery, he will have won his freedom.

There are uneasy alliances, unexpected treachery,  and long hidden clues.  Pekkala must return to places and relationships that had ruled their lives.  

What is it that makes  Eye of the Red Tsar and the Inspector Pekkala mysteries so addictive?  Sam Eastland recreates a lost world with great attention to detail.  Reading Eye of the Red Tsar, I kept researching the Romanov family, Stalin, the Russian Revolution.  After learning the small details of Inspector Pekkala's world, I wanted to know how much of the story was real and how much Sam Eastland created.  

The characters are fully fleshed out, sympathetic, and fascinating.  Pekkala has an amazing memory,  unparalleled skills of detection and survival, and a deep loyalty to his friend and master Tsar Nicholas and the Romanov family.  The loyalty and courage that Pekkala displays are just another sign of his exceptional character.  Like many of the unforgettable detectives (Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Sherlock Holmes, Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce,  Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache), Sam Eastland's Inspector Pekkala is larger than life, brilliant, and charismatic.  It's hard to overemphasize just how fun the series is - I do recommend you discover for yourself!

ISBN 0553593234 - Paperback $13.50
Bantam; Reprint edition (January 25, 2011), 304 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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