Friday, 4 December 2009

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Fiend

The Politburo are left in a bit of a pickle when the Party Chairman, Andre Keschev, keels over from a fatal stroke while on a hunting trip. Beloved by both the party and the public, Keschev's presence is essential at an upcoming world summit in Geneva. In desperation they call on Anton Yafremov, a Russian occultist with an interest in the dark arts. He uses his black magic to bring Keschev back to life, but as we learned from Pet Semetary, when you pull this kind of stunt they never come back quite right. Soon Keschev is building up Russian military power and bringing the world to the brink of war, much to the alarm of the Politburo. There's only one option left. Assassinate Keschev. But how can you kill something that's already dead?

Firstly they assign two top KGB assassins to murder him during the talks in Geneva. Instead of a gun they are instructed to use a wooden stake under the assumption that he is a creature of darkness and firearms would be useless. I don't know, I'd at least try first. Take his head off with a sniper rifle or blow him up with a car-bomb. Let's try a few established methods before going all Van Helsing on his ass. Naturally their attempt fails and Keschev easily slaughters the assassins and blames the whole mess on the CIA. In fact, it's only at the very end of the book that someone has the bright idea of marching into his office and blasting him with a shotgun. It doesn't kill him but it does put a sizable hole in his torso that remains there for the rest of the book. A+ for effort.

Probably the weirdest assassination attempt is when they try to use an attack dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback to be precise, to maul Keschev as he is wandering the grounds. Yafremov uses his black magic abilities (I guess?) to inhabit the body of the dog and attack him, only for the dog to be killed by Keschev and Yafremov driven insane as a result. He gets sent to a mental institution, surprising the staff when he grows a bony ridge along the length of his back. Very Tales From the Crypt but a little out of place amongst all the political intrigue.

After shipping all the Russian Jews off to concentration camps (this is not a particularly subtle book) Keschev starts purging the Christians. This hampers the conspirators' efforts to arrange an exorcist, especially when their prime candidate, the head bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, is driven completely batshit by demonic forces. Keschev then goes about systematically murdering all of the members of the Politburo he suspects of conspiring against him, which is everyone. One gets trampled to death by a wild boar, another gets eaten by rats (scrotum first), others are crucified in Cathedral of St. Michael, it's a complete mess. Who can stop the Kremlin Beast?

The main character, if there is one, is Sergey Prokop, a KGB operative turned Kremlin paper pusher, who is blackmailed into assisting a beautiful British spy named Ursula Ramanninov. She is a famous Russian dancer and he falls in love with her even though he rightly suspects she's a honey pot. She's certainly an improvement over his fat drunken bitch of a wife, whose born again Christianity soon earns her a date with the secret police and their spiked dildo of doom. Ramanninov and Prokop gradually piece together the truth of the situation and formulate a plan to kill Keschev. However, with tensions rising and Soviet troops marching through Afghanistan and beyond, can they complete their mission before the world erupts into nuclear war?

Usually Smith's protagonists are misogynistic and one dimensional, but at least they're proactive. Prokop, on the other hand, does pretty much fuck all except get ordered around by other people and mope about his horrible wife. At one point he is assigned to protect a politican during a visit to Keschev's dascha. After completely failing at that task, a prostitute confides in him about her fear of Keschev. His response is to give her a knife and wish her luck, which goes about as well as you'd expect. Also, during the climax of the book Prokop just sits around biting his nails while Ramanninov does all the work. What an asshole.

Like in Warhead, Guy N. Smith tries to combine cold war tension with supernatural horror, but I think he's more successful here. The Russian perspective was interesting and it's always scary to have a crazed madman with their finger on the button. It's one of Smith's longer books and while the cat-and-mouse between Keschev and his conspirators is quite enjoyable it does gets a little repetitive after a while. Some decent suspense is generated as the cast of characters is whittled down and it ends in a decent and somewhat surprising climax. This is a pretty good one.

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