Heads You Win
Review: Karen Watkins
This is a brilliantly smooth thriller. Although it starts off slowly, the pace soon picks up and ends with a sting in the tale.
Without giving too much away, the stage is set in the late 1960s in Communist Russia.
Alexander Karpenko is a young man at the top of his class with the world at his feet.
Elena, his stay-at-home mum, is blissfully married to Konstantin who is not a Communist Party member and instead yearns for a democratic, liberal state.
Konstantin is murdered by the KGB for attempting to set up a trade union where he works in the docks of Leningrad.
This leads to Alexander and Elena needing to flee the country in order to survive. Elena’s brother helps them to escape in a crate on a merchant ship. It is risky but fate takes over and that’s when things start to get interesting.
Although family sagas and political thrillers are not my preference, these undertones provide subtle glimpses into the politics of that time while not detracting from the ingenious plot that twists and turns as the story travels from Leningrad to Boston and the British countryside.
The characters are strong, likeable, believable, polished and yet complex. I was also impressed by the thorough historical research cleverly woven throughout the story and especially the artwork, artists and art galleries that feature.
Despite this being a long book at 470 pages, I was never bored. In fact, I hung onto the last few pages not wanting it to end.
If you enjoyed this English author and former politician’s bestselling Kane and Abel, you might find an interesting parallel in where paths cross for the son of a Boston millionaire and a penniless Polish immigrant – men born on the same day on opposite sides of the world – in the ruthless struggle to build a fortune.