Sunday, September 21, 2014

Moscow Bound, First Book in Trilogy, by Adrian Churchward, Illustrates State Abuse of Power

Moscow: 2013
Yuri Vladimirovich Sokolov was in his living room polishing the frames of his photograph collection when strains of the battle hymn Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye
invaded the evening's silence on Mosfilmovskaya Street...
It was a male voice, singing in English. Sokolov's heart missed a beat. A frame slipped through his arthritic fingers and smashed into pieces of the oak floor...
He shuffled over to the window and peeked between the curtains. A sodium street light in the car part cast an eerie haze over the snowflakes as they floated to the ground. Nobody.
He edged the curtains wider apart and craned his neck, looking left and right, and left again. A man wearing a fur ushanka with the earflaps pulled down over his cheeks appeared from around the corner...
Despite the slippery pathway, the singer was marching towards Sokolov's building. Sokolov released the curtains, switched off the light and took to his armchair, where he waited in the darkness.
The singing stopped. He heard the wooden double doors in the building's lobby being yanked apart, scraping the floor and forced shut again. The residents had been complaining to the maintenance engineer for months to secure the locks...
The man was leaving the study and heading down the corridor, towards the living room.
No they never will take our sons again.
Sokolov began reciting the second verse of the 23rd Psalm.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...
Silence. Sokolov opened his eyes.
"So many years, so many winters, Yuri Vladimirovich."
The intruder was standing in the half-lit open doorway, smiling. He spoke fluent Russian.
"Who are you?" Sokolov gripped the arms of the chair to stop his hands from trembling. He didn't recognize the face. But he knew what the man wanted...

No they never will take our sons again
Johnny I'm swearing to ye...

Moscow Bound
By Adrian Churchward

I hope you listen to the song while reading part of the prologue of this book. If it doesn't chill you, perhaps the news that a small group of men had been imprisoned for over 30 years...  

Sokolov had been one of the men assigned to keep control of some of those individuals...

Moscow Bound blew me away from the first page above to the very end! The author lived and worked in Moscow, Budapest and Prague between 1984 and 1998. As you know, I like to recognize an author who has gained his expertise for a novel through direct experience or training... Here's a paragraph of that background.

He was one of the few Western lawyers working in the day-to-day arena of President Gorbachev's liberalization process of perestroika and glasnost, and which ultimately resulted in the collapse of communism and disintegration of the Soviet Union. In 1991, he witnessed the abortive coup against Gorbachev and in 1993, he was again present in Moscow when Yeltsin ordered the shelling of the Russian parliament building, aka "The Russian 
White House..."

"I want you to help me find my father," she said
He jerked his had back. It sounded like a command,
but she was smiling plaintively. "Excuse me, what
did you say?"
"I want you to help me find my father."
He took a few seconds to reflect. "I'm a lawyer,
Ms Romanova, not a detective. I'm not equipped
to look for missing persons."
"I know who you are Mr. Mitchell."
"Then you'll know that I don't--"
"You fight for people who have been abused by
our government." She stepped forward.
"That is why I want you to help me." Her tone
softened and the pleading smile broadened.
"In What way?"
"My father is in prison. He has been in prison
for over thirty years. Without a trial."
Scott Mitchell, an idealistic young English human rights lawyer has just won a major case  in the European Court of Human Rights!

"You just kicked the shit out of their military in the European Court of Human Rights--and credit to you. What those bastards did to the Chechens, they should be topped, the lot of them," Charlie sounded sincere. "But your honor, do you think Russian generals spend their leisure time reading law books? You're going to need all the friends you got--and some." Charlie straightened his Jermyn Street Tie. "Am I right, or am I right?" 

So you might say that Mitchell had become an overnight-star in the Human Rights arena. Of course it meant a good or bad reputation depending upon whose side you were on!

But still, can you blame her for immediately going to him for help?! All he saw was that she was beautiful... But as he listened he wasn't sure why she had contacted him. It sounded like she needed, perhaps, a private investigator...

You know, of course, that he agreed to help, right? And I'm sure that it had nothing to do with her being beautiful, right!??? 

Anyway... all Ekaterina knew was that her father was being held... somewhere in Russia. She further stressed that he was not missing--rather, that the authorities were holding him prisoner. She was sure that they knew where he was...

First let me go back to the prologue. Yuri Sokolov was one of the top agents who had been assigned a group of men who were imprisoned for no reason other than who they were and what the military wanted done... It doesn't appear that Sokolov was such a bad man, but, still, he had been given the responsibility and never chose to question why these men were imprisoned. What that means for Scott Mitchell was that he was about to enter in a dangerous situation well out of the courtroom and surrounded by military enemies who now hated him because of the win for the Chechens.

Then the first clue came from an unknown informant that they should go to an apartment on Mosfilmovskaya Street. By the time they got there, a man had been murdered. Neither knew who he was...

And so the hunt begins... But first, Ekaterina shares part of a letter from her mother  to "whet his appetite..."
We talked of getting married. Then one night, when he had come secretly to my dormitory, four men arrived and took him away. I followed them into the street, crying and screaming. I woke the whole university, but nobody helped me as the men took your papa away in their cars. When I went to the junior school where he worked (it was the first time I had been there) the principal said she'd never heard of him. It wasn't true. I'm sure they were told to erase him from their records for some reason. Yes, it happened in those days, in the 1970s. It wasn't only Stalin who made people disappear...
As I read and got more and more involved with the action of the search, a man came to mind that would represent Scott Mitchell...   Anybody who has seen Liam Neelson go after somebody like he's done in several of his movies, will realize the skilled, tenacious, and fearless character that we meet in Moscow Bound. A very cool character that takes nothing from nobody! And that's what was needed to break into a prison and escape with one of the prisoners... if, indeed, that was where he was and if he was still even alive...

Got to say that this would make a wonderful movie! But if that doesn't happen, check out this book further. This is probably the best inside book I've read of this time period in Russia. Everybody knows I love Talanov in James Houston Turner's books, which you should also check out if you haven't already! But The Puppet Meisters trilogy is coming in close...Can't wait for the next book! Highly recommended!


Adrian Churchward is an English attorney who has worked in commercial law practices for over thirty years in London, Los Angeles and Eastern Europe. He holds an M.Phil. from Essex University in Comparative International Law.

He first acquired a taste for Russian culture in his early teens when he immersed himself in the works of Dostoyevsky and Gogol, rather than the school's curriculum of Shakespeare and Chaucer. A sight-seeing visit to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) followed in 1973 and laid the foundations of his life-long interest in the Russian people and language.

In the latter years of the 1970s he worked as European counsel to a Los Angeles law firm whose senior partner had been a US Airforce pilot in the Vietnam War and whose stories sowed the seeds of Adrian's fascination with the US-Soviet proxy conflict. Within a few years of his return to the UK Adrian was on his travels again. He worked in Moscow, Budapest and Prague as an East-West trade lawyer, helping EU and American corporations operate in the fast-disintegrating communist economies and then in the anarchy of the Yeltsin years, when state assets were auctioned off at rock bottom prices to the "new-Russian biznizmenni", some of whom survived to become the powerful oligarchs we know today. During this period he learnt Russian and became proficient in translating Russian commercial and legal texts into English.

He has co-written and co-produced a short film called Paranoia which was shown at the Budapest Film Festival in September 2013.

Books Published

Moscow Bound is the first book in the Puppet Meisters Trilogy dealing with state abuse of power. All three novels find Scott Mitchell, an English human rights lawyer, constantly fighting the all-pervasive corruption of the power elites, not only in authoritarian Russia, but closer to home in the so-called transparent liberal democracies of the European Union and the United States.

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