Preview Copy (publication date 7/7/22)
This book was reviewed at the beginning of the Ukraine invasion. The Partisan echoes some of the war atrocities in the second world war – so opportune with the horrors in Ukraine on the news constantly. In The Partisan, Lithuania is the site of the Russian (and German) aggression towards its peoples and especially the Jews. The novel is primarily set in two time frames – the eastern front in the second world war and the cold war era. It is described as an epic novel. Unfortunately, too epic in my opinion! It could easily have been divided into two or more novels. The cast of characters is immense, and if you read chapters at a time, you are challenged to remember who is who and the relationships! For example, Karpov is pro-Stalin but many of his associates have different allegiances. The story is quite complex, and you need to be paying full attention.
Netgalley introduces the book as follows:
It is the summer of 1961 and the brutal Cold War between East and West is becoming ever more perilous.
Two young prodigies from either side of the Iron Curtain, Yulia and Michael, meet at a chess tournament in London. They don’t know it, but they are about to compete in the deadliest game ever played.
Shadowing them is Greta, a ruthless resistance fighter who grew up the hard way in the forests of Lithuania, but who is now hunting down some of the most dangerous men in the world.
Men who are also on the radar of Vassily, perhaps the Soviet Union’s greatest spymaster. A man of cunning and influence, Vassily was Yulia’s minder during her visit to the West, but even he could not foresee the consequences of her meeting Michael.
When the world is accelerating towards an inevitable and catastrophic conflict, what can just four people do to prevent it?
This is quite a dark, sinister and chilling novel – not for the faint-hearted. There are graphic details of atrocities, violence and torture. Karpov is just plain horrible – terrifying, a sexual deviant and treacherous. His character is so extreme that it becomes unbelievable. Another character who seems bizarre and lacks credibility is Michael’s father. He is an Admiral and leader of a UK spy team. Michael and his father have never understood each other and do not get on – fair enough. It stretches credibility when soon after leaving school his father’s cronies kidnap him and the Admiral leads the interrogation and torture. Really?
There are some interesting passages especially the chess tournaments and the ongoing shenanigans! Michael (British) and Yulia (Russian / Lithuanian) fall in love at the Chess tournament and tensions between East and West build as they try to arrange assignations in Berlin. Yulia has minders for the tournament so Michael needs to tread carefully. Vassily her friendly minder manipulates the situation so they meet surreptitiously!
The style of writing is strange in parts For example, “her eyes were a dramatic shade of green, with a hint of the Central Asian steppes in them”. And there’s more: “Michael leaned in so close to the girl that he could hear her eyelashes when she blinked”. Sure, spies may have supernatural powers but …
Unfortunately, long passages meander endlessly although other reviewers compliment the book as a page-turner! The book is recommended for lovers of Robert Harris and Charles Cumming – I wish! Patrick Worrall is a new author and would love to recommend him after all his research and hours of writing. Fortunately, there are others who admire his style. Lee Child says ‘Immersive, intriguing, and intelligent – incredibly impressive, up there with the best in the genre’. You cannot please everyone.