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Rasputin’s Shadow by Raymond Khoury

A review of Khoury’s “Rasputin’s Shadow” in this week before Halloween is very appropriate.  The book goes back and forth between early 20th century Russia and modern day New York City.  Khoury invents a relationship for the ghoulish real-life figure, Grigory Rasputin, with a scientist side-kick who has invented a mysterious machine that can affect humans in many ways.  The descriptions of Rasputin and his relationship with the Tsar and Tsarina are historically accurate, but the scientist and his invention are figments of Khoury’s active imagination.

The other story line takes place in modern day New York where FBI agent, Sean Reilly, and his Russian FSB counter-part, Larisa Tchoumitcheva, investigate the death of a Russian embassy operative and the disappearance of a Russian emigre and his wife.  The missing man, a retired science teacher from Queens, secretly built a version of his grandfather’s mystery machine from the journals the older man left.  It has the potential for mind-control of humans and turning them into indiscriminate killers and, essentially, zombies using different microwave frequencies.  Of course, both U.S. and Russian agents want this machine.  One rogue Russian KGB agent kidnaps the hapless inventor and his wife and tests the machine on crowds in New York and Washington, DC before Reilly and Tchoumitcheva eventually catch up with him.

The invention and its effects are a little hard to swallow, but evidently there is “psychotronic” research going on currently which may make this weird machine not so far-fetched.

Rasputin’s Shadow” is a good, absorbing thriller, if a little implausible.

Liz Nichols



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Three Day Town by Margaret Maron

Three Day Town” is the 17th novel in Maron’s Deborah Knott Mystery series.  Colleton (NC) County Judge Deborah Knott and her husband, Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant take a belated honeymoon in New York City where they have the opportunity to use Dwight’s sister-in-law’s Upper West Side apartment.  They also have a package to deliver to NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald from her grandmother who lives in Colleton County.  Before they are able to meet up with Harald the package is stolen and the building superintendent is found murdered in the apartment Dwight and Deborah are borrowing.  They team up with Harald to find the killer.  Deborah winds up with her own harrowing experience at the hands of the killer when she wanders out one night to investigate a large plastic-covered object that is being thrown in the trash collector’s truck.

This is a pretty routine mystery with nothing particularly special about it.  There is so much petty theft going on in the apartment building I would think that the tenants would have risen up long ago to change over the staff, hire security, etc. The plot just doesn’t add up for me.

I appreciated one comment that one of the characters makes:  In real murder mysteries it is usually the most obvious party who is the killer.  In made up mysteries it is usually the least obvious party who is the killer.  In this case it is completely made up and the author is trying to pin this on the least obvious character. I simply wasn’t convinced about this particular killer and how he could have been around so long.  He seems so unstable that he should have been out of the picture long before the sequence of events that led to two murders and the attempted murder of Knott.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything in this series.  I think there are better ones.  I’d prefer to read about Knott in her own setting in North Carolina.

There is a newer Sigrid Harald series as well and it is obvious the author is trying to gather readership for the Harald series through her long-time Knott readers.  I don’t think the cross-pollination really worked and the two series should be kept separate from now on.

Liz Nichols

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