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Volk's Gameby Brent Ghelfi
Synopses & Reviews
The explosive debut introducing Russian gangster Alexei Volkovoy—not since Robert Ludlums Jason Bourne has a hero shifted so effortlessly between hunter and hunted
A firefight reverberates through Moscows dark, rain-soaked streets; shattered glass and screams echo in the air. In the lawless ways of Russias capital city, the gunmen melt away into the night. Two men are dead, the targets not what they seem.
A shadowy figure lopes along the riverbank outside the Kremlin walls. Known to all as Volk, a battle-hardened veteran of Russias brutal war in Chechnya, he prowls Moscows grim alleyways, a knife concealed in his prosthetic foot at all times.
As both a major player in the black market and a covert agent for the Russian military, Volk serves two masters: Maxim, a psychotic Azeri mafia kingpin with hordes of loyal informers; and a man known only as the General, to whom Volk is mysteriously indebted. By his side is Valya, an exotic beauty charged with protecting her lover from his unsavory associates. Valya is the most dangerous weapon in Volks arsenal.
Together they are commissioned to steal a long-lost da Vinci painting called Leda and the Swan from St. Petersburgs Hermitage Museum. Ledas ethereal radiance is undeniably captivating and incalculably dangerous. Volk must choose which powerful man he will betray in order to escape with the painting—and with his life.
With the high-octane rush and vivid intensity of a feature film, Volks Game delivers at every turn, announcing Alexei Volkovoy as the boldest hero of a new generation.
"'Former attorney Ghelfi's impressive debut introduces a compelling antihero, Alekei 'Volk' Volkovoy. A brutal killer maimed in Russia's war against Chechnya, Volk leads two lives — one as a powerful gangster with a hand in virtually all underworld rackets, the other as a covert military operative. When Volk gets the chance to steal a previously unknown Da Vinci painting, Leda and the Swan, which has been concealed beneath another painting in a St. Petersburg museum, Volk enlists the aid of Valya, a beautiful assassin, in plotting the theft. After an ostensible ally sabotages the operation, Volk seeks vengeance. The twists and turns accumulate at an almost dizzying pace, building to a satisfactory resolution. Frederick Forysth fans will appreciate the crisp writing. This thriller could mark the start of a successful long-running series. (June)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Brent Ghelfi's first novel, 'Volk's Game,' is pretty much state of the art with regard to a certain kind of thriller. It's an exciting, often brutal story of Russian gangsters fighting over priceless works of art. Its characters are colorful, its descriptions of Russia are vivid and its suspense is palpable. In terms of sheer entertainment, 'Volk's Game' is an impressive debut, and it is not without... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) its serious moments, too, particularly with regard to the bitterness the war in Chechnya has brought home to Russia. The only possible objection to the book is its level of violence, which is off the charts. This is not a novel for the faint of heart. The title character and narrator, Volk, was a Russian army officer in Chechnya. He was captured by rebels who cut off one of his feet and subjected him to months of torture. 'Somewhere in grieving Chechnya,' he says, 'I lost the capacity for joy, and every other deep emotion except for hate.' Back in Moscow and equipped with a prosthesis — in which he conceals a knife — he's an entrepreneur who deals in drugs, identity theft, porn and murder. You've read accounts of assassinations of dissident politicians and reporters in Moscow — Volk might have been such an assassin. And yet he is presented as a man with at least a hint of a conscience. He won't traffic in prostitution or kiddy porn, and he regularly gives money to the widows of soldiers killed in Chechnya. Volk's lover, Valya, is 19. As a girl in Chechnya, she was successively raped by her father and uncles, Russian soldiers and Chechen rebels, before Volk took her in. She's as coldblooded a killer as he is, but here she is again a victim, as Volk's enemies capture and torture her to force him to do their bidding. Volk is caught between two rival crime czars, one of whom, the General, was his commanding officer in Chechnya. (The General is somewhat improbably a dwarf.) The prize both gangsters are seeking is Leonardo da Vinci's long-lost painting of Leda and the Swan. There are also hints that a previously unknown version of da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' may be hidden with the Leda. All this is clearly fanciful. At times, as Volk dodges bullets and survives horrific injuries, 'Volk's Game' reads like a comic book, but its pace is so fast and its writing so vivid that we hurry on to the next thrill or atrocity. (The novelist Lee Child says in a blurb that Ghelfi writes 'like Dostoevsky's hooligan great-grandson on speed.') A man is burned to death. Volk is tortured with a Taser. Valya kills a man by shoving a spade down his throat. After the man dies, 'A fly — the first of many, I'm sure — lands on the metal flange of the spade and delicately picks its way into his yawning mouth.' But the violence is punctuated with lovely descriptions of Moscow and St. Petersburg: 'I make my way back across the Dvortsovy Bridge. The enormous dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral launching golden rays into a cobalt blue sky dominates the view heading south.' Ghelfi, a lawyer who lives in Phoenix, reports on today's Russia, too, as when an old woman is busted for selling radioactive berries: 'Chernobyl nuclear fallout has led to glowing fruit, atomic food inspectors, and, now, arrested babushkas — all part of everyday life in twenty-first-century Moscow.' It is a credit to Ghelfi's skill that he makes us believe in Volk's love for Valya and his painful decision to send her away: 'She is a symphony of granite and grace. I am Russian. Fatalistic. Broken. My heart pumps icy vodka. The greatest gift I can give her is freedom from me and my kind.' Volk may be a psychopath, but he's not without heart. This is a novel that could appeal to two audiences. At a visceral level, it will please readers, mostly men, who get off on guns, war and extreme violence. At a more elevated level, it could impress others with the excellence of its storytelling. In one of the novel's most brutal scenes, Volk gets his revenge on the woman who caused his lover to be tortured. He sticks his Kalashnikov into her mouth and: 'When I can see that she knows what's coming I pull the trigger and shower brains and bone all over the chamber.' That reminded me of the famous exchange at the end of Mickey Spillane's 'I the Jury,' when Mike Hammer shoots the woman who killed his best friend and, after she gasps, 'How c-could you?' replies, 'It was easy.' The fantasy of a revenge killing (of a beautiful woman in both these cases) hasn't changed in 50-odd years. What has changed is the level of talent involved. The best of today's thriller writers have novelistic skills far beyond anything Spillane or his imitators could imagine. Of course, the audience has changed as well. Spillane's books shocked America. Today, increasingly extravagant fantasies of violence simply entertain a jaded, some would say decadent, nation. If Baghdad doesn't turn your stomach, why should this?" Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Alexei Volkovoy--known to the underworld as Volk--is a hardened veteran of the conflict in Chechnya, a gun-for-hire now living in a lawless Russia, serving two corrupt masters: one is Maxim, a psychotic Azeri mafia kingpin, the other a mystery man known only as "The General." When Volk and his lover, a wild-eyed, white-haired young Russian named Valya, are hired by both men to steal the same lost painting from the Hermitage Museum, Volk must choose which to betray, and what that betrayal will cost him. His decision will lead this honest thief into the dark heart of the new Russian oligarchy, where only cash and violence can open doors.
The explosive debut introducing Russian gangster Alexei Volkovoy delivers at every turn, announcing Volk as the boldest hero of a new generation.
About the Author
Brent Ghelfi has served as a clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals, been a partner in a Phoenix-headquartered law firm, and now owns and operates several businesses. He has traveled extensively throughout Russia, and lives in Phoenix with his wife, a former prosecutor, and their two sons. Volk's Shadow is due out in July 2008, and Brent is currently working on the third book in the series.
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