Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Kyiv by Graham Hurley, his latest WW2 thriller set against the backdrop of Operation Barbarossa, the German code name for the invasion of Russia. My thanks to Lauren at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy via NetGalley.
About the Book
On Sunday 22nd June 1941 at 03.05, three-and-a-half million Axis troops burst into the Soviet Union along a 1,800-mile front to launch Operation Barbarossa. The southern thrust of the attack was aimed at the Caucuses and the oil fields beyond. Kyiv was the biggest city to stand in their way.
Within six weeks, the city was under siege. Surrounded by Panzers, bombed and shelled day and night, Soviet Commissar Nikita Krushchev was amongst the senior Soviet officials co-ordinating the defence. Amid his cadre of trusted personnel is British defector Bella Menzies, once with MI5, now with the NKVD, the Soviet secret police.
With the fall of the city inevitable, the Soviets plan a bloody war of terror that will extort a higher toll on the city’s inhabitants than the invaders. As the noose tightens, Bella finds herself trapped, hunted by both the Russians and the Germans.
As the local saying has it: life is dangerous – no one survives it.
Format: Hardcover (416 pages) Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 8th July 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller
Find Kyiv on Goodreads
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I really enjoyed Last Flight to Stalingrad, the first book in Graham Hurley’s Spoils of War series. Although part of the same series, Kyiv can definitely be read as a standalone.
The setting is the city we today know as Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and once again the author blends historical fact and fiction into the storyline. For example, Kim Philby, who it’s clear knows how to bowl a googly, makes an early appearance and Guy Burgess turns up soon afterwards. However, the two main characters, Isobel (Bella) Menzies and Tam Moncrieff are fictional.
In alternating chapters, the book charts events over the course of several weeks starting in September 1941. We follow Bella as she travels to Kiev alongside Ilya Glivenko (known as The Pianist) who is overseeing the transport of a mysterious cargo to that city from Britain. And we witness the attempts by Bella’s lover, intelligence officer Tam, to unearth more information about Bella. In the process, he uncovers evidence, in true John le Carré style, about possible moles at the heart of the British intelligence operation.
With the benefit of hindsight, the reader won’t find it hard to identify likely individuals, but for Tam it means following his instincts. There’s a terrific scene that put me in mind of the exploits of Richard Hannay, the hero of John Buchan’s adventure novels, in which Tam attempts to surreptitiously follow a man he suspects may be a traitor through the streets of London. ‘Moncrieff had spent many years stalking deer in the mountains… the subtle arts of staying upwind, of moving carefully from cover to cover, of closing on the prey’. Despite this experience, Tam finds himself outfoxed and, it becomes apparent, in danger. Indeed, as Bella observes at one point, “The world is always more complicated than you think”.
For Bella, her time in Kyiv is one of new experiences including being hustled from one safe place to another in order to escape the attentions of Stalin’s secret police, and adopting a new identity courtesy of the enigmatic Larissa. Unfortunately, once Russian forces quit the city and are replaced by a German army of occupation, Bella experiences first-hand what the SS are capable of although, to provide balance, the author demonstrates that not every German supported the extreme acts of violence perpetrated by the Nazi regime. There is one scene in particular that, as a woman, I found hard to read and another that is shocking because of its sheer scale. It’s as Yuri, one of Bella’s Ukranian contacts, had warned: “…everything will change. Everything. Here. In the city. Everywhere. We love the Russians going, but we should be careful what we wish for.”
It’s clear the depth of research that has gone into the book, whether that’s recreating the club-like atmosphere of MI5’s Central Registry in St. Albans, the discomfort of an overnight flight aboard a Halifax, or the streets of the besieged Kyiv as German bombs rain down.
In Kyiv, the author has created an unflinching picture of the chaos, confusion and horror of war, and its long legacy – physical, emotional and psychological – for those who live through it.
In three words: Compelling, authentic, powerful
Try something similar: Hitler’s Secret (Tom Wilde #4) by Rory Clements
About the Author
Graham Hurley is the author of the acclaimed Faraday and Winter crime novels and an award-winning TV documentary maker. Two of the critically lauded series have been shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Best Crime
Novel. The first Wars Within novel, Finisterre, was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize.