“Upright in the back seat, the FSB officer waited for the Range Rover to glide to a halt outside the battlemented walls of Novodevichy Convent.” This is the opening of writer G.W. Eccles’ exciting political thriller, The Oligarch.
Author G.W. Eccles spent ten years living and working in Russia and Central Asia before he wrote his highly original and fast-paced political thriller, The Oligarch. But lest you think you’re in for a business history of post-perestroika Russian, then think again. Eccles is a highly engaging storyteller and this is a skilled and assured debut. It’s so skilfully written that you can’t tell that this is a first novel.
You can’t write about Siberia or the political conflicts within Russia without first-hand knowledge. They are, after all, hardly the kinds of places that anyone calling himself a writer would be welcome. Journalists who poke their noses in the wrong places in these parts have a habit of turning up dead.
The Oligarch begins with the election of a Russian President for a third term amid widespread accusations of vote rigging, and deals with the consequences of the President’s determination to claw back from the oligarchs what he regards as the family silver they obtained for a song as a result of the ‘loans for shares’ episode.
Just to give you a bit of background – in the mid 1990s a sick and ailing Yeltsin was struggling to control the new Russia and the government was rapidly running out of cash as government revenues stalled. A group of enormously rich businessmen who had profited from the fallout of the Soviet Union agreed to lend the State money in return for taking shares in major Russian companies (particularly in the natural resources sector) as security. The theory was that the State would borrow money for a year, then repay it and the security would be returned, but everyone knew that Yeltsin would never be able to repay the money in that timescale. As a result the oligarchs gained ownership of enormous companies for a tiny amount of money.
In The Oligarch: A Thriller, there are three main characters, all of who have convincing back stories and come across as three dimensional. Leksin, the hero, who is brought in by the President to investigate what is happening at Tyndersk prior to its appropriation by the State. He’s tough, but then he has to be. He has both physically and mental strength and is unflinching in his determination not to give up.
Anton Blok, the oligarch, who gained control of Tyndersk though the loans for shares scheme, has his own private agenda (about which we learn about as the book progresses) and will stop at nothing to thwart the President’s plans. He’s essentially a thug in a suit: rude, insensitive, greedy, ruthless and dangerous as he has political aspirations.
Finally, Anya, Blok’s daughter. She’s a particularly interesting character because, when we first meet her, she comes across as a rich, spoilt waster, obsessed yet bored with the Moscow social world. However, as she gets to grips with what her father’s doing and the danger in which it’s putting Leksin (with whom she falls in love), she has for once a purpose in life and she shows steely determination in pursuing it.
It’s a shame that mainstream publishers and agents passed up the opportunity to publish The Oligarch. But I’m certain that this will not be the last we’ve heard of writer G.W. Eccles and I look forward to reading the next instalment for Alex Leksin.