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- The Glass Palace Chronicle -

Heroin, monks and traffickers in drug-haunted Burma

Claudia, an English student down and out in Paris, picks up a man in a bar to earn the fare home, and gets offered a free trip to Burma. Paul wants her to pose as his wife for two weeks, but he won’t tell her why. Claudia has no home, no money, no degree, no plans. So why not take a trip?

She finds herself travelling back in time to a country of pagoda-studded plains where oxcarts outnumber automobiles, enchantment rubs shoulders with poverty, and the government has resorted to wholesale drug trafficking to keep the economy afloat.

But Paul has enemies determined to see him dead. Magic turns into nightmare, the journey becomes a flight – and then Claudia finds out what Paul really wants her to do.

“Packed with action and suspense, this is also a compassionate portrait of a beautiful and troubled country,” said The Good Book Guide, while the Daily Telegraph noted that “the atmosphere spirals from apprehension to paralysing, hypnotic terror.”

The journey that inspired the book is recounted in The South-East Asian Road Novel on this site.

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- The Angels of Russia -

A doomed love affair in the age of perestroika

When Stéphanie, a French student, falls in love with Sergei, a Russian dissident, and agrees to a marriage of convenience to help him leave the USSR, she believes she is helping to outwit the KGB. But in Leningrad in 1986, no one is quite what they seem, and Sergei has another mission to fulfil when he gets to Paris. Stéphanie’s “chance” encounter with Sergei is the opening move in a skilfully plotted attempt to entrap a woman who defected to France twenty years earlier, and convince her to return to the Soviet Union. No one will escape unscathed from the tragedy that follows.

Originally conceived as the first part of a trilogy set in the late Soviet era, The Angels of Russia was the first e-book to be submitted for the Booker Prize. The nomination generated a media storm about “what is a book?”, a lot of controversy about pages and binding, some references to Homer, and a mention in Izvestia.

The Times Literary Supplement called The Angels of Russia “a sweeping contemporary historical romance, set against the great drama of perestroika,” while an Amazon reader observed, “I had to remind myself continually that this was fiction.  I loved the author’s technique of inserting relevant historical details, which gave the impression of a true story.”

See the “making of” The Angels of Russia in  KGB In The Mirror on this site.

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- Music at the Garden House -

Secrets, pursuit and betrayal when the Berlin Wall comes down

Axel’s affair with Katharine was doomed from the start. For one thing, she was married; for another, she was a foreigner. In Cold War Moscow, there was no place for them. Besides, Axel had loyalties he could not reveal, and career plans it was wiser not to talk about.

But ten years later in London, his path crosses Katharine’s again. The Berlin Wall has fallen, communism is collapsing, old secrets are coming to light, and Axel has to run. Reluctantly, Katharine helps him escape, and they drive across Europe with the KGB hot on their heels.

Somewhere between London and Prague, the old attraction revives, until Katharine finds out what really happened in Moscow, and Axel realizes his life has gone so badly wrong he may never get it right again.

The Sunday Times called Music at the Garden House “a tense and intriguing novel that raises provocative questions about betrayal: personal, national and political,” and praised it as “a thrilling adventure and a somber portrait of the decay of the Soviet system.”

Music at the Garden House was conceived as the second part of a Soviet trilogy exploring the moral compromises forced on the individual in a police state. The first book in the series is The Angels of Russia and the third is Café Maracanda.  

For insights into the “making of” Music at the Garden House, see Driving to Koenigsberg on this site, and for an account of the “Mauerfall”, see When the Berlin Wall Came Down.

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- Cafe Maracanda -

The Golden Road to Samarkand: false friends, good wine, enchantment and revenge

When Camilla finds a house to rent in Tuscany, and Davey invites Igor and Rachel to share it, their lives will change forever. Especially when Igor redefects to Moscow. Rachel will never recover from his betrayal, and Davey has reasons he cannot admit for taking it hard.

Igor moves to Samarkand and opens a bar. The Café Maracanda attracts a wide range of clients. Tourists enjoy the charms of Tamerlane’s one-time capital, drug lords negotiate the price of heroin, Igor’s old KGB cronies drop in to chat.

But then who should walk in but Camilla. And Rachel isn’t far behind.   One is determined to find out the truth, the other is set on revenge, and Igor begins to understand that his time is running out.

Café Maracanda is the final part of a trilogy of Soviet-era thrillers. Like The Angels of Russia and Music at the Garden House, it examines the toll taken on the individual by life in an unfree society.

What or who can you trust in a world where trust is a negotiable commodity? The book bristles with convincing insight into the mental damage inflicted by totalitarian regimes. It can be enjoyed on many levels, not least the cooking, the great food and wine, operas, music, all the little pleasures that make life worthwhile, even as you brace yourself for the inevitable shocks. Highly recommended.  (Martin Boylan, author of The Jealous God and Councillor O’Toole.)

See also The Golden Road to Samarkand under Timeline on this site.

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