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Donald James
Villard, 437 pages

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A seasoned TV writer, Donald James's credits include several episodes of Mission Impossible and The Avengers. He resides in England where he recently wrote the scripts for a ten-part PBS series entitled Russian's War. The series is scheduled to air this fall.

Monstrum Excerpt

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Wayne MacLaurin

Set in a near-future Russia after a bitter civil war, Monstrum tells a tale of serial murders and political intrigue. Invoking familiar overtones of Jack the Ripper, Monstrum begins with the investigation of a series of gruesome killings. As the investigation progresses, the novel begins to interweave the politics of the new Russian government.

Constantin Vadim, a detective from provincial Russia is drawn into the scenes of Moscow mayhem. His ex-wife is a popular and well-known leader of the losing anarchist side in the civil war. Vadim is recruited by the Cheka (the new KGB) as a double for the Vice President Leonid Koba. His Cheka duties take him to Moscow where he is given the post of homocide detective in the very district that the Monstrum murders are occurring.

OK, so the setup is pretty lame. I spent most of the novel wondering why, if all it takes is a fuzzy mustache and some gray hair powder, nobody noticed Constantin's remarkable resemblance to Koba. And, the ex-wife is a terrorist angle was a pretty obvious plot device.

But as a mystery/detective novel, Monstrum succeeds. By page 20, I was pretty sure I knew who the murderer was and the reasons for the political plot line. Nope, I was wrong. By page 300, I was rethinking my convictions and reworking the plot. This type of novel works much better if you, gentle reader, don't try to figure it out.

I don't think Monstrum works nearly as well as a novel of political intrigue. The Russian political figures are all the old stereotypes that every James Bond and cold-war movie has ever used. Donald James tries hard to run roughshod over the reader's emotions while he builds up and tears down Constantin's personal political convictions and plays up the ex-wife angle far too much to be convincing.

So, if you are looking for a good mystery/detective novel, Monstrum will be a delight. If you are looking for decent political intrigue, pick up a copy of Gorky Park.

Copyright © 1997 by Wayne MacLaurin

Wayne MacLaurin is a regular SF Site reviewer. More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.

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