Book Review: The Holy Thief

Jane Harkleroad, in our Collection & Resource Services Department, specializes in acquiring new items for the library collection.  She has contributed another of her popular book reviews, for The Holy Thief, a novel by William Ryan.  Check it out below.

**Note:  Our newest books are located on the 2nd floor between the Circulation Desk and Zach’s Brews.  These include the Browsing Collection for books of popular interest, as well as new Government Documents.  Any of these items can be checked out.  In addition, our newest Reference Books are shelved on the 2nd floor in the Reference Collection, on the shelf nearest the main staircase.  The Reference Books remain in the library building.**


Reminding me a little of Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park, The Holy Thief by William Ryan is his first novel.  The story is intriguing from the first paragraph.  Like Gorky Park, it is set primarily in Russia and has several murders.

The Holy Thief is set in the time of Stalin’s reign, when people disappeared just because of telling a joke, uttering a phrase that could be misconstrued, or getting on someone’s bad side.  These implied threats are hanging over the heads of all the characters.

Woven into the background are interesting ways of life that citizens of various rankings had in that era—like what kind of meal a man on the street would get and eat quickly; some of the clothing worn; transportation; difficulty with attaining personal cleanliness without soap; or the complexity of getting a pair of boots (or any shoes) when none are available in the stores–in place of the felt shoes that the case detective has to wear.  Learn about “The Thieves”, the Zone, the probable fate of political “criminals,” and avoiding getting caught in the twists and turns of the political machinery.

The detective, Capt. Korolev, has an extremely good arrest record and is known for getting his criminal with his quiet, subtle methods.  Sort of a Russian “Sherlock Holmes,” as his young assistant Lt. Seminov enjoys pointing out, since he likens himself to Holmes’ “Watson.”

Korolev was brought up by a Christian Orthodox mother in the era just before the Revolution.  Had it not been for this turmoil, he might have become a priest, but here he is, instead…a divorced, hard-working, logical-thinking, detective who truly believes that the result of the Revolution will be a better Russia.  Korolev has a Bible that he risks bringing with him to his new quarters and then hides.

The agency these detectives inhabit is on the bottom of the “heap” when it comes to security.  They are minor climbers on the ladder of intrigue.  The hierarchy is more like a morass as the closer they come to the possibility of solving the murders, the deeper they sink into the slime/mud/quicksand that is the upper echelon of security.

From the beginning, people are being “butchered,” literally.   Their bodies are being left in extremely unusual places.  The physical evidence is full of hidden clues—like a trail of  breadcrumbs leading the detectives onward or in a circle.  So many times, the clues just don’t make sense, unless you uncover the key.

There are constrictions, innuendo, social bias, and social rules of various classes of citizens that cause hindrances in solving the crimes.  Then again, maybe these things actually provide them with help in solving the murder(s)–with street children and old pensioners getting in on the act!

All the main characters wreak havoc in one form or fashion.  There is romance as a sidebar, but only briefly.  The Holy Thief is definitely a thriller and a mystery.  See if you can solve the crimes!!

If you like this story, you will enjoy the 1981 story Gorky Park, too.  Read them both and let us know which one you enjoyed most.

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