21 June 2012

Review: Chernobyl Murders by Michael Beres

"In a western Ukraine wine cellar in 1985, Chernobyl engineer Mihaly Horvath discloses the unnecessary risks associated with the power plant to his brother, Kiev Militia detective Lazlo. Spawned by a desire to protect his family, Lazlo investigates—irritating his superiors, drawing the attention of a CIA operative, raising the hackles of an old KGB major, and ultimately discovering his brother’s secret affair with a Chernobyl technician, Juli Popovics. After the explosion, the Ukraine is not only blanketed with deadly radiation, but also becomes a killing ground involving pre-perestroika factions in disarray, a Soviet government on its last legs, and madmen hungry for power. With a poisoned environment at their backs and a killer snapping at their heels, Lazlo and Juli flee for their lives—and their love—in this engrossing political thriller."

Chernobyl Murders was a surprising diamond in the rough. When I first started reading the book I didn’t have very high expectations but I pushed on as it was set against the backdrop of the Chernobyl Disaster. I quickly was hooked by the believable technical details and the intriguing plot; this resulted in me finishing the book in a few hours, despite the story being slow to start.  

The book follows Lazlo Horvath, a police detective in Kiev as he tries to clear his brother’s name from involvement in a supposed terrorist attack on the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station before the KGB arrest him and his brother’s mistress for involvement in the attack. This gives the story good pace once it gets going and provides plenty of action.

The book is unfortunately let down by the writing. The characters, despite having moments of tangibility, are often predictable, wooden and their voices are stereotypical; at times merge into one. This is particularly seen in the case of the two PK officers – who, for most of the book, are interchangeable and woefully unbelievable. The prose is also awkward at times and in places incredibly dull.

The ending was something that really puzzled me. Set in the present day, it involves an encounter between Horvath’s niece and a spy in modern day Kiev. It left me confused and cheapened the ending. Therefore I felt the book would have been better ending with the previous chapter.

Overall, Beres should be praised for his research and fantastic plot; these points on their own make this a great read for those with an interest in nuclear disasters, Chernobyl in particular. It would also appeal to those who like novels based around the fall of the Soviet Union, as this political change is regularly referred to for context. However the poor writing style and one dimensional characters mean that some of the trill is lost and the book leaves you feeling slightly disappointed at end.

Chernobyl Murders is available for Kindle from Amazon UK (£3.32) and for Nook from Barnes& Noble ($4.24).

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