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The Holy Thief by William Ryan

The Holy Thief

Part of the The Korolev Series Series
Crime / Mystery   Debuts of the Month   Historical Fiction   eBook Favourites   
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Selected by Sarah Broadhurst

One of our Debuts of the Year 2011.

March 2011 Debut of the Month.

The Holy Thief brilliantly evokes a society that has broken down and rules of human behaviour that are hard for us to imagine. We are in Stalinist Russia between the wars. Everyone has to be careful of what they say and who they say it to .Young people have to learn when not to say what is on their minds. 'Even the innocent (are) jumping at shadows these days'. Rank is important. 'The colonel placed a slight emphasis on Korolev's rank, just enough to remind Korolev of the thinness of the ice under his feet'. In this world, Korolev is ordered to solve a gruesome murder but does the culprit exist inside or outside the system? Who can he trust? Where can he turn? Whatever he does, he has to tread carefully. This beautifully written, finely judged novel is up there with the likes of Le Carre, thoughtful and thought-provoking: intelligently written and thoroughly readable.

If you like William Ryan you might also like to read books by Alan Furst, Tom Rob Smith and Martin Cruz-Smith.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Moscow, 1936, and Captain Alexei Korolev is making his mark with the Criminal Investigation Division. The mutilated body of a young woman is discovered on the altar of a deconsecrated church, and Alexei is assigned to investigate the killing. But the woman is an American citizen, and the much-loathed NKVD starts to muscle in; Alexei finds that both he and his investigation are under a microscope. He is aware that a wrong move may propel him into the frigid wasteland of the far north, so he tries a risky strategy: he infiltrates the dangerous world of Moscow’s criminal classes. Bodies begin to accumulate, and Alexei finds that not just his life but his political and religious ideals are on the line. In The Holy Thief, William Ryan demonstrates considerable skill in evoking this benighted period, along with a deftness at ringing the changes on familiar crime-plotting moves.
~ Barry Forshaw


The Holy Thief by William Ryan

It's Moscow, 1936 and Stalin's Great Terror is beginning. In a deconsecrated Church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see.

Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD - the most feared organisation in Russia - becomes involved.

As more bodies are discovered and the pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust; and who, in this Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevails, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life...


A subtle, superb mystery, a wonderful central character and with a sense of place and period to rival even the greatest of the Russian masters. More please! * Kate Mosse * A first-rate crime novel: a genuinely memorable detective, powerful story and a seamlessly convincing setting. William Ryan is the real thing. * A.L. Kennedy * A first-rate crime novel: a genuinely memorable detective, powerful story and a seamlessly convincing setting. William Ryan is the real thing.

.L. Kennedy 'Ryan's novel has an authority that belies his first-novel status... Ryan demonstrates considerable skill in evoking this benighted period, along with a deftness at ringing the changes on familiar crime plotting moves. The auguries for a series, of which The Holy Thief is the first book, are very promising indeed. * Daily Express * Impressive debut... The Great Terror's atmosphere of fear and paranoia is well portrayed, and Korolev is an appealing hero -- Marcel Berlins * The Times * It is rare to meet a genuinely exciting new voice in crime fiction. Ex-City lawyer William Ryan should definitely give up the day job, because he is a writer through and through, and in this first novel he establishes what promises to be a rewarding series. Ryan's research is impressive . . . More importantly, the way his people think and speak under duress has the feel of eye-witness reportage. The city life - the feral street-children who have a ragged copy of Sherlock Holmes, the thugs who run the underworld that flourishes under the biggest thug of all, Stalin - is terrifyingly believable, while scenes like that of a pathologist and police-photographer chummily swigging post-mortem vodka out of sample jars give a tragicomic sense of humanity preserved. Ryan writes with narrative drive and urgency, real sense of place, and a central character who is conflicted, moral, and above all likeable. Any one of these things is a rarity; the combination is whodunnit heaven * Times Literary Supplement * This debut is a powerful tale set in 1930s Russia ... it's atmospheric, beautifully written and meticulously researched * Irish Examiner * A first novel written with all the narrative assurance of someone who'd been perfecting his art for years. A thriller set amid the paranoia of 1930s Moscow, it was persuasive in all its local and historical details, told its tense story with style and aplomb and had an engagingly troubled hero * Irish Independent * William Ryan uses an inspired choice of setting for The Holy Thief, the first of a planned series set in a vividly imagined Stalinist Russia, where the creeping paranoia of a surveillance state blends perfectly with the brutal serial murders his protagonist Captain Korolev is charged with investigating. * Metro - Crime Books of the Year * Ryan's first detective novel confidently re-creates a paranoid society where mutual suspicion is the norm . . . The Holy Thief is an absorbing and assured debut * Sunday Times *

About the Author

William Ryan

William Ryan is an Irish writer, living in London - having worked as a lawyer in the City for a number of years. In his spare time, he wrote on an occasional basis for television and film before completing a Masters in Creative Writing at St Andrews University in 2005.

His debut novel, THE HOLY THIEF, is the first in a series of cases and adventures for Alexei Korolev, a detective working for the Moscow Criminal Investigation Division in 1930s Russia.

Author photo copyright © Kate Eshelby

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Book Info

Publication date

4th March 2011


William Ryan

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Pan Books an imprint of Pan Macmillan


320 pages
Interest Age: From 18 years


Crime / Mystery
Debuts of the Month
Historical Fiction
eBook Favourites

Crime & mystery



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