I got a copy of this one from the author in exchange for an honest review – thank you very much!
Independent troubleshooter, Alex Leksin, is recruited by Prime Minister Saidov when the plan to reduce Russia’s reliance on an ever more hostile Europe is put at risk. Hell bent on expansion, President Karpev’s strategy is first to shift the markets for his country’s vast energy resources to the East and Saidov has been charged with overseeing a planned pipeline for Russia’s oil through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to access these markets. Failure could mean catastrophe, spreading the conflict raging in the Middle East to Russia’s own borders.
Fearful that the pipeline deal might be tilting off course, Leksin has only twelve days to report back before Karpev is due to sign the pipeline contract with the Turkmen President in Ashgabat.
His investigation begins in Moscow at the conglomerate responsible for planning and funding the pipeline. Once the province of larger-than-life oligarch, Lev Usenko, the group is now run by his daughter, Vika, the woman Leksin was once to marry. Trickier still is the prospect of dealing with her embittered brother, Max.
Against a background of political corruption, state-sponsored terrorism and increased Taliban insurgency, Leksin moves on to Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most sinister countries, right at the heart of Central Asia. Initially his enquiries reveal nothing to cause alarm. Other factors, though, suggest otherwise: wherever Leksin goes, someone tries to kill him; people in a position to help him are assassinated; and information turns out to be misinformation.
Moscow. Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan. Dark sands of Karakum. The dried-up Aral Sea. You have to admit the settings of this novel is really original and the author managed to persuade me he really was there and saw that. The plot is dealing with Russians and their struggle to control the flow of natural gas through Central Asia – so far so good. I also liked Nadia, a special agent and a hit woman who dressed up as a ‘baboushka’ (a Russian term describing an old woman) while at ‘work’. I might say I finished the book just to know what happened to her. Unfortunately here my praise must end.
There were moments when the plot became not only predictable but almost prophetically flawed. The main hero was warned that Turkmenistan is no longer a Russian-friendly country and immediately he felt the full impact when a mob attacked his car. Then he was shown some ugly, local equivalent of a Comodo Dragon (called ‘zemzen’) and right in the next chapter he had to face two of those animals. Another character said to him ‘if something happens to me head to X’ and right after a page or two that secondary character disappeared, presumably shot. With such a plot where is the surprise factor, so important in any thriller?
Also I truly, really didn’t understand why Alex Leksin tried so hard to discover the flaw of that pipeline project – even though numerous people tried to kill him time and again. It’s not that he was passionate about a ‘cause’. He didn’t seem to lack money. He didn’t do it in order to impress and/or save a beloved one. He just…did IT, going through motions like a puppet. Ok, the Russian president ‘Karpev’ ordered him to do so but he could easily tell him that there were some assassination attempts and in such circumstances only a fool would persevere without a small army of top-notch bodyguards, preferably ex-Special Forces. When I come to think about it already the fact that Leksin was sent almost alone was really strange and rather unprecedented.
One more thing: Alex is supposed to be a long-time cocaine user. At one point his stash of drug is confiscated and he is left out there without one single gram of the white stuff. Still he suffers no withdrawal symptoms. ???
If you think it is easy to write a good thriller, think again. One big, fat meh.