Reviewed by Jim Napier
After an eventful first posting with External Affairs in Havana, neophyte Canadian diplomat Charlie Hillier has been moved to Moscow and assigned to be the embassy consul. He’s scarcely arrived when, emerging from a bar, he is confronted by a pair of local cops who ask him for his passport. When Charlie discovers that his pocket has been picked and his diplomatic passport and government-issued Blackberry are missing, he lands in Butyrka Prison overnight. Not the best beginning in his new job.
The experience isn’t a total loss though, for while he waits for his release Charlie encounters Steve Liepa, a thirty-something writer and fellow Canadian being held for possession of marijuana. Liepa says he’s innocent, and that he’s been denied any contact with his embassy. He implores Charlie to look into his case when he’s released. Since that’s a large part of Charlie’s consular job description, he can hardly refuse.
So begins Charlie Hillier’s introduction to his new posting. It’s not long before he’s caught up in the intrigue underlying plans by a local shaker-and-mover to persuade the Canadian government to relocate from their present (and inadequate) digs to a major new building complex in Moscow. The man behind the deal is reputed to influence much of what goes on in the city. In perfoming his due diligence on the potential embassy move, Charlie comes to realize that in the convoluted machinations of the Russian business world, everything is connected to everything else. But his efforts to help Steve Liepa to be released from prison hit a wall when he is informed that the young man has hanged himself in prison. Welcome to Moscow, Charlie.
When Steve’s sister Sophie arrives from Canada expecting Charlie to have her brother released from prison, it falls to him to break the news. She’s desolated, of course, but determined to get to the bottom of Steve’s death. Although they’re up against the Russian bureaucracy, Charlie discovers information that connects some of the dots in Liepa’s recent past in a larger picture that puts both his and Sophie’s lives in danger. Ottawa is looking better all the time.
The Moscow Code is the second in Canadian author Nick Wilkshire’s engrossing new series featuring the earnest (but equally hapless) Charlie Hillier. While Wilkshire’s debut novel, Escape to Havana, often focused on the lighter side of diplomatic life, in The Moscow Code the author has noticeably cranked up the action – and the suspense. The tense atmosphere is anchored in a gripping plot, and both benefit from Wilkshire’s informed account of modern-day Russia. This is a book that will appeal to a broad range of readers, from fans of action thrillers to those simply seeking a well-constructed and entertaining look at a nation that few outsiders understand.
The Moscow Code is published by Dundurn.
Jim Napier is a professional crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites, and his own crime novel Legacy was published in 2017. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org