‘Shadow Pass’ filled with history, suspense

Don’t mess with Inspector Pekkala. He’s worked with some of the most notorious Russian dictators in the 20th century.

He served as a detective during the regime of the last Romanov czar, Nicholas II, who ascended the throne in 1894. Nicholas II was later killed, along with his family, in 1918 after the Russian Revolution.

Pekkala also served under Lenin, the force behind the revolution, and now Stalin.

In the second installment of his Pekkala series, "Shadow Pass," author Sam Eastland puts Pekkala into a scintillating suspense story involving new technology in a world teetering on the brink of war in the late 1930s.

Pekkala is ordered by Stalin to investigate the sudden death of Col.l Rolan Nagorski, the developer of the T-34, a new tank being developed in secrecy.

Historians regard the T-34 as one of the best, if not the best, tank ever built. It turned the tide for the Russians in their battle against the Germans along the eastern front during World War II.

Not only does Pekkala have to solve Nagorski’s death, which may have been at the hands of German spies, he has to help protect the T-34 project. The Russians’ worst fear is to have the blueprints stolen or even worse, the theft of a prototype.

Pekkala has to clear several hurdles in his investigation, including a paranoid Stalin, a stifling communist bureaucracy and other mysterious organizations. And there’s a woman or two involved as well.

Although the Finnish-born inspector has been through some difficult assignments, this might be his most treacherous yet. However, he has some power, and he wields it.

For example, in an incident in Moscow, Pekkala is accosted by some government agents, who realize that Pekkala is on a special assignment from Stalin.

"We can’t detain him. We can’t question him," an agent says. "He is licensed to shoot you and no one’s even allowed to ask him why he did it."

Eastland’s story is packed with history, intrigue and drama. He keeps things fairly simple in a tale that could get complicated quickly.

His narrative moves at a good pace, but flashbacks involving Eastland seem to go on forever and prove to be a distraction.

Pekkala is a richly developed character who has a checkered past. But it’s hard to root against him in "Shadow Pass."

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