Pros: Engaging, easy to read, good plot.
Cons: Historically not completely accurate.
I find Russian history very enticing, especially the events surrounding the disappearance of Russian royalty and the establishment of the Soviet state. Sam Eastland covers this period in his novel "The Eye of the Red Tsar". Using a fictional character, Inspector Pekkala, Eastland delves into the murder of the Romanov family, an event that remained a mystery for a very long time.
Inspector Pekkala was born in Finland, at a time when Finland was a province of Russia under Tsar Nicholas II. Joining a Regiment of Tsars Finnish guards, Pekkala is identified by the Tsar himself for his photographic memory and incredible integrity. In fact, Nicholas gives Pekkala power to arrest members of the imperial family themselves, including the Tsar, if need be. Believing in symbols, Nicholas gives Pekkala a gold badge with a large emerald in the center, resembling an eye. The Inspector became known as Emerald Eye throughout Russia from then on.
Being faithful to the Tsar, Pekkala is thrown into a Siberian prison for years by the new Bolshevik government after Tsar abdication and disappearance, until the new leader, Comrade Stalin, offered him a deal: stay in prison, or help find out what happened to the Romanov family, and get pardoned. Pekkala chose the latter.
Thus starts Emerald Eye's adventure that takes him, Commander Anton, and Commissar Kirov (two Soviet officers assigned to escort and help Pekkala in his mission) from Siberia to the Urals and Sverdlovsk (formerly Ekaterinburg). From forests to insane asylums to fake villages, the trio encounters dangers and in the process becomes friends where friendship was unlikely.
I really liked the fictional part of this book, as it is fast-paced, well-written, and without dull parts. For those without the knowledge of Russian history, the non-fictional parts of the book that were incorporated will also sound believable, as some parts, indeed, were true. Eastland mentioned the Romanovs' imprisonment in Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg, Tsarevich Alexei's hemophilia, Romanovs' murder in the basement of the house, their bodies being dumped in a mine shaft just outside of a town, all of which are correct.
However, Eastland wrote that the bodies were still in a deep mine shaft over ten years after the Romanovs' murder. This is incorrect. The mine shaft was so shallow that not all of the bodies could fit, so they were buried nearby the very next day. Eastland mentioned that all the bodies were fully clothed, which is incorrect. All the bodies were stripped naked. Eastland never mentioned the four bodies of the Romanovs' servants murdered with the Romanovs, or the missing body of one of the daughters (both the body of Maria and Alexei are suspected to had been buried close by).
In any case, Eastland does not claim for his story to be correct. It just may be somewhat annoying to those who study Russian history to read this account and to reprogram their thinking to accommodate this fictional account. Once the reader does that, the novel is engaging and fun. Recommended.