Moskva by Jack Grimwood is a brilliantly written, chilling, and sophisticated serial killer thriller by two-time BSFA winner Jack Grimwood (available July 11, 2017).
Red Square, 1985. The naked body of a young man is left outside the walls of the Kremlin, frozen solid―like marble to the touch―missing the little finger from his right hand.
A week later, Alex Marston, the headstrong fifteen-year-old daughter of the British Ambassador, disappears. Army Intelligence Officer Tom Fox, posted to Moscow to keep him from telling the truth to a government committee, is asked to help find her. It’s a shot at redemption.
But Russia is reluctant to give up the worst of her secrets. As Fox’s investigation sees him dragged deeper towards the dark heart of a Soviet establishment determined to protect its own, his fears for Alex’s safety grow with those of the girl’s father.
And if Fox can’t find her soon, she looks likely to become the next victim of a sadistic killer whose story is bound tight to that of his country’s terrible past…
Red Square, Christmas Eve, December 1985
In the same hour that a sergeant in the Moscow police threw a tarpaulin over the naked body of a boy below the Kremlin Wall, a missile pulled by a diesel train a thousand miles away jumped its rails approaching a bend and killed everyone on board. Faced with such a disaster, the local soviet took the only decision it could.
Military bulldozers began gouging a two-hundred-yard trench in the dirt.
In the weeks that followed, any evidence that the track had not been properly fixed was buried, along with twisted rails, the wreckage and the bodies it had contained. Fresh track was laid along the edge of a lake and fixed, properly this time. The accident simply ceased to exist.
In Moscow, the truth was harder to hide.
It was six in the morning, not yet dawn, and the old man using the shortcut behind Lenin’s Tomb was old enough to remember when Resurrection Gate still guarded the entrance to Red Square; back in the days before Stalin had it demolished to make it easier for tanks to parade.
The old man was unkempt, shaggy-haired. He’d been born to peasants and fought beside Trotsky in his teens. He’d be happy to resign his seat on the politburo if only the USSR had someone to replace him.
That fool Andropov, dead after fifteen months. Chernenko didn’t even last that long. Now Gorbachev, practically a child …
How could he possibly step down?
The man only realized something was wrong when a torch momentarily blinded him. It was lowered quickly, lighting trampled snow. The sergeant was apologetic, abjectly so. “Comrade Minister. Sorry, Comrade Minister … I didn’t realize it was you.”
“A car crashed into a bollard.”
“A Zil, a Volga, a Pobeda?”
“A Volga, sir. A new one.”
The old man frowned. The waiting list for a Volga was so long it could be resold instantly for double the original price. Even in a country where vodka was often the only way to keep out the cold, crashing a new one would be more than unfortunate.
He watched the sergeant shift nervously from foot to foot.
How long would it take him to realize the obvious? There would be tire tracks in the snow if he was telling the truth. He didn’t blame the man. He’d obviously been ordered to lie.
“Tell them I insisted on seeing for myself.”
“Yes, Comrade Minister. Thank you, Comrade Minister.”
They should have been around when Stalin was alive. Then they’d know what real fear was. Ahead, lit by uplights on the Kremlin Wall, a major of the militsiya, Moscow’s police, stood bareheaded before a politburo member the old man had never liked. The man’s preening idiot of a son was on the far side.
“Vedenin,” the old man said.
“Comrade Minister? You’ll catch cold.”
That was Ilyich Vedenin for you, the old man thought sourly. Always willing to state the obvious. At their feet, falling snow turned a tarpaulin white.
“Well, aren’t you going to show me?”
Vedenin’s son yanked back the cover to reveal a boy of twelve or thirteen, apparently asleep. He was naked, his head and any body hair shaved clean. His mouth was very slightly open and his genitals looked tiny. The jelly of his eyes was milky white and he stared so blindly that for a second the old man looked away.
The little finger of the boy’s right hand was missing. The cut was clean, no blood on the snow beneath. Kneeling, the old man touched the boy’s chest and then his face, almost gently. The flesh was hard as ice.
“Strange,” he muttered.
“What is, sir?”
“He can’t have been here long enough to freeze.”
The old man was readying himself to stand when he paused and covered his action by tapping for a second time the white marble of the frozen boy’s chest, pretending to listen to its dull thud. Then he checked that he’d seen what he thought he’d seen.
Almost entirely hidden in the boy’s mutilated hand was a tiny wax angel.
That was unnerving enough. What was more unnerving still was that the angel had the boy’s face. Glancing up, to make sure he wasn’t being watched, the old man palmed the angel and pocketed it.
There was a message in the whiteness of the wax.
As there was a message in the frozen state of the body placed so carefully in front of the Supreme Soviet’s center of power. The old man had to admit he was slightly shocked that the dead boy and figurine should come together. Not least because the latter could only have come from someone he knew to be dead.
Copyright © 2017 Jack Grimwood.
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Jack Grimwood, a.k.a Jon Courtenay Grimwood, was born in Malta and christened in the upturned bell of a ship. He grew up in the Far East, Britain, and Scandinavia. Apart from novels, he writes for national newspapers including the Times, Telegraph, Independent, and Guardian. Jon is two-time winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel, with Felaheen and End of the World Blues. His literary novel The Last Banquet was shortlisted for Le Prix Montesquieu 2015. Moskva is his first thriller.