Wow, this was the last new book I read and it was months ago. Even worse that it’s taken me until now to review it, but Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote the story so well, many parts of it are still visible in my mind.
Many know Montefiore as an historian and only a few know of him as a novelist. My question when I picked the book up in Waterstones, I wondered “can the guy who wrote about Jerusalem really do drama justice? And crime drama at that?”. Whether or not ‘crime drama’ is the right way to describe this book may be up for debate, but his story telling is undeniably ingenius.
One Night in Winter is a novel set in Russia amongst the elite of Soviet society. True to his historical roots, Montefiore brings in well-known figures such as Josef Stalin, his son Vasily and various cabinet members of the time – the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Military Generals such as Zhukov, members of the KGB’s investigatory team and an American ambassador – to life. Yet the story is not just of them and politics, but of the children at the heart of the story.
Being rubbish at describing books without going into much detail and giving everything away, I’m just going to copy the blurb straight from the back of the book:
Moscow, 1945. As Stalin and his courtiers celebrate victory, a teenage boy and girl lie dead nearby.
But these are no ordinary teenagers; they are the children of Russia’s highest leaders.
Is it murder, suicide or conspiracy?
So begins a terrifying witch-hunt which unveils secret love affairs in a world of merciless power where the smallest mistake is punishable by death.
Admittedly it took me a while to get into as I’d been reading a fast paced epic romp of an urban fantasy, but once I’d got over the change in pace I could not put this book down. It’s so cleverly written that I was at times equal parts awed and so incredibly jealous I turned green. Things that seemed inconsequential before become pivotal later even though they are the tiniest of details.
Historical figures come to life off the page as surely as the fictional ones do, such were the lengths of research that the author went to. The political story and the world of Russian politics at the time taints everything just enough to enrich the story without becoming an opinion piece or political rant.
Everything is vibrant and alive though darkness pervades the whole story because of the deep love the characters all have for one another for that is what One Night in Winter is predominately about. Power and love and how one can corrupt the other. The emphasis is the love stories – the parents and the love they have for their children, the love the children have for each other and, as equal as the rest, the affairs. But each are corrupted to breaking point subtly and with heartache.
Is it a book to read again? Yes, definitely, after putting it down for a while so the finer details are forgotten to be re-discovered. The story is so rich, however, that you could still enjoy it a month or so later.