The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett (♦♦♦)

It’s the summer of 1914. Revolutionist ideas are burgeoning in Europe. In England, women have demonstrations to gain the right to vote. Russian people are at odds with the Czar. Germany is gaining momentum as a preeminent European power, and there are talks among the British elite that an attack on France by Germany is imminent.

In Switzerland, a group of anarchists meets in secret. Their job is to print a newspaper with the latest revolutionist ideas; later they smuggle that publication into Russia where it’s devoured by hungry intellectuals. Among those anarchists in Switzerland is a man named Feliks Kschessinsky, a Russian from St. Petersburg, who volunteers to kill a Russian prince in talks to form a Russian alliance with the British if Germany invades France.

Feliks travels to Britain and gets an opportunity to kill the Russian prince almost from the beginning, but his attempt is frustrated. Instead of giving up, his resolve is strengthened and he tries again…and again…Hot in Feliks tracks is the Special Branch of British police and an aristocrat with a personal interest in catching Feliks dead or alive.

Meanwhile, in Sarajevo, a student has managed to kill the Crown Prince of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire…

When I finished The Man from St. Petersburg I was glad, because it was over. Last year I reviewed Eye of The Needle and thought it was a pure shot of adrenaline. The Man from St. Petersburg is interesting, enlightening even particularly regarding the causes of WWI, but it lacks thrill factor. If Eye of The Needle and The Pillars of the Earth were brilliant--both among the best books I’ve ever read--, The Man from St. Petersburg is formulaic and somewhat predictable.

The Man from St. Petersburg is heavy on human drama and not so much on the politics that supposedly drives the story. The characters though, aren’t sympathetic enough to make the book stand out.

I haven’t read Fall of Giants but I know is based on WWI, so The Man from St. Petersburg may be considered a prequel, or at least a good introduction to the former.

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