LIFE is not easy for an honest policeman in Thirties Soviet Russia. After surviving encounters with corrupt officials in William Ryan’s much-acclaimed debut novel The Holy Thief, the intuitive Captain Alexei Korolev finds that rather than being dead or imprisoned he wins the day and is acclaimed a shining example for the Soviet people. He is even decorated.

Alexei is however all too well aware that nothing good in the communist Soviet Union is to be trusted and the dangerous information he has gathered in his activities has left him in a perilous position.

If the authorities discover the extent of his investigations an ice-cold future in a Siberian prison camp beckons. Soviet citizens of this era learned to dread the knock at the door in the wee small hours but when Alexei hears that knock on a snowy Moscow night it is not the catastrophe he expected.

NKVD Security Chief Colonel Rodino is the nocturnal visitor asking him to investigate the apparent suicide of a model citizen. Maria Lenskaya has died during the making of a film in the Ukraine and her death is a matter of great interest to the sinister Ezhov, commissar for state security. m Maria was making, the eponymous Bloody Meadow, is still shooting and when Alexei arrives on the movie set he soon finds himself in a dangerous situation with something unsayable – the failure of the revolution – the key to the mystery. Some authors and publishers live in fear of their second book. The dread springs from the readers’ familiar refrain: “That first book was so good… what went wrong?”

Nobody will be asking that question about The Bloody Meadow, every bit as darkly compelling as its predecessor with all the elements that made The Holy Thief so successful: razor-sharp plotting, an evocative sense of location in a vividly realised Ukraine and most winning of all the vulnerably human Alexei Korolev making a nuisance of himself.

Ryan’s first book was shortlisted for a brace of awards. If there is any justice this second novel will gather up those baubles that should have gone to the first book.

Verdict: 3/5

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The Bloody Meadow by William Ryan, Mantle, £16.99

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