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THE BURNING LAKE
by Brent Ghelfi
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2011
284 pages
$24.95
ISBN: 1590589254


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE BURNING LAKE takes a hard look at Russian life under Putin, as well as the West's willingness to use the country's weaknesses to its own advantage. The story, part of a continuing series about Colonel Alexei "Volk" Volkovoy, begins when he discovers from a dissident that journalist Katarina "Kato" Mironova has been murdered.

Kato was no ordinary journalist, but an extremely brave woman willing to take on the Kremlin in her search for the truth; she was also Volk's lover. While Volk's search for the truth behind her death is intermixed with his work for "The General," avenging her murder becomes personal as he explores her last known steps and the story she was pursuing.

From a toxic nuclear site in the Urals to chasing CIA and French intelligence leads in Las Vegas and Tijuana, Mexico, Volk begins to uncover the bigger story that not only resulted in Kato's death, but ultimately leads a much bigger cover-up that involves not only Russia, but the United States, France, and others.

This thrilling novel takes on not only the complexities of intelligence and keeping secrets, but the lives of those who ultimately pay for the mistakes of government, be they journalists reporting on government actions or impoverished citizens forced to live in toxic conditions. Author Brent Ghelfi is very clever in his storytelling, not allowing readers to make Russia the easy villain, but instead showing that the West has plenty of blood on its hands as well.

This is dark writing, but those who love thrillers will find much to like in THE BURNING LAKE. It combines the right amount of realism with character development (most interesting in this case is the dead journalist) and action. Much of the behavior of intelligence (both on and off the books) is brutal, and author Ghelfi never attempts to lighten things up to make it easier on his readers.

For those with a strong stomach, however, the rewards are rich. This is a well developed storyline that unites all the pieces of the puzzle perfectly at the end. It leaves readers with plenty to think about, without ever compromising the storytelling along the way. For those who seek some insight into the darker side of government, this is a book worth reading.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, August 2011

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