If one reads books long enough, there are certain types of fiction that get old, very quickly. Adhering too closely to formula and adding nothing with style, some detective novels, for example, wear themselves thin within a few pages. Seeming to forget that it’s possible to write familiar material in an engaging manner, things like prose, writing between the lines, presentation, making bolder assumptions of reader intelligence, and other elements of more sophisticated fiction get tossed aside in favor of trying to write the latest bestseller. Thankfully, Jon Courtenay Grimwood does not forget. His 2016 Moskva (as written by “Jack Grimwood”) is a brilliantly styled murder/espionage story set in Soviet Russia in the 1980s that does nothing new in broad terms, and yet does everything flawlessly at the detail level, resulting in a roughly familiar yet highly engaging novel—the perfect relaxing read.
Tom Fox is in exile, of sorts. British intelligence angry at a rash choice he made involving the deaths of others, he has been sent to Moscow on a low-grade assignment to gather information about the influence of religion on the state. Set in the mid-80s, Soviet power is in effect but on the wane, meaning more government officials are reaching out to attend the social gatherings of the city’s various embassies, including the British. Meeting one such important Soviet official at a gathering, Fox likewise runs into the daughter of the British ambassador at the same party, a rebellious fifteen-year old named Anna who reminds Fox of his own daughter, now dead. The teenager turning up missing in the days that follow, Tom is called into the diplomat’s office and his mission quickly changed from information gathering to investigating a missing child. The trouble for Fox is, the deeper he digs, the deeper the implications for Anna, British-Soviet relations, and even his own life.