Review: THE BURNING LAKE by Brent Ghelfi

The Burning Lake

Brent Ghelfi

Published by Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN 978-1-59058-927-4

Reviewed by Ron Smyth

The Burning Lake is the fourth thriller about Colonel Alexei Volkovoy and his extraordinarily complicated life. A veteran of the Chechnyan wars, where he lost a leg and gained a lover, Volk is a one of a kind composite of criminal, spy and hero, who can be ruthless and brutal or passionately moral at the same time. He is a damaged man, both spiritually and physically, and his struggles are such that they easily lift these books above the sort of potboiler to which international thrillers are so often reduced.

This time Volk is called upon to investigate the murder of a journalist, Katarina Mironova, known around the world as Kato, found murdered on the banks of Russia’s Techa river, near the radioactive village of Metlino. Was she simply one more victim of Putin’s war on the free press? Or was it some specific truth that she was about to reveal. Something about the nuclear industry and its disposal of the ever increasing amounts of dangerous waste that has the potential to either be reprocessed for nuclear fuel or turned into the sort of dirty bomb that could poison whole cities? Volk has a more personal involvement that adds another layer to his relationships with both his lover, Valya, and The General, for whom he sometimes must perform missions. As those secret ties to Kato begin to emerge we learn more about what makes Volk the man he has become.

By definition, thrillers must thrill and if there is a weakness in this book it lies in the lack of a worthy villain. While there are plenty of nasty people involved, some seem barely competent and none rise to the level of a Moriarty or Goldfinger.

While there is plenty of action this book far more than just another thriller. What we learn about Mayak, where a massive explosion in 1958, concealed from the world even as it irradiated hundreds of square miles of territory reveals some of the dangers the whole world still must face. This is extremely important to us all as we watch the nuclear catastrophe that is currently unfolding in Japan and decide what to do with our own nuclear waste. The US had plans to bury it at Yucca Mountain in Nevada although that plan has been scrapped. But the waste has to go somewhere.

The secret history of the atomic age is as relevant to our society today as ever. We struggle to deal with a past that shapes our future just as Volk’s past shapes his. That makes this book interesting in ways that ordinary spy stories seldom match.

Well worth reading.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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