In the second book to feature Inspector Pekkala, history has moved forward nearly ten years. In THE EYE OF THE RED TSAR, Inspector Pekkala is assigned a case that he is uniquely able to investigate. Pekkala had been the eyes and ears of Tsar Nicholas II. As the tsar’s chief spy, Pekkala was known by the badge given to him by Nicholas, a badge describes as an emerald eye. Pekkala’s loyalty to the tsar earned his a death sentence in Siberia but Pekkala survives and finds himself called upon by Stalin to defend Russia by working for the new government.
In THE EYE OF THE RED TSAR, Stalin needs Pekkala to prove that all the members of the Romanov family are dead and, incidentally, Stalin wants Pekkala to find a rumored fortune in gold hidden by the royal family. The new communist government cannot risk being toppled by rumors that the Romanovs are waiting to come back and assume the role taken from them. Pekkala is successful and Stalin lets him live his life, loyal to Russia if not to the Soviet Union.
SHADOW PASS continues Pekkala’s story in 1938 or 1939. Stalin needs Pekkala because there are rumors that the plans for a tank that can guarantee Russia’s military success against any enemy are being offered to Germany. The chief suspect in the possible negotiations is Colonel Nagorski, the genius who created the tank known as T-34. Stalin sends Pekkala to the secret facility where the tank is being assembled. Nagorski has proceeded with the belief that the left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand is doing but when Nagorski is killed, there is great concern that someone else is working for the Germans and T-34 will be used against Russia by Germany.
Stalin trusts no one but he needs Pekkala. He recognizes the inspector’s commitment to the safety of his country even if he doesn’t have a commitment to the man who is strengthening his control by the mass arrests of over a million people in eighteen months. Stalin’s fear that T-34 could be used against the Soviet Union is so strong that he gives Pekkala a Shadow Pass. An extra page has been inserted in Pekkala’s pass book, the book of the details of Pekkala’s life. “THE PERSON IDENTIFIED IN THIS DOCUMENT IS ACTING UNDER THE DIRECT ORDERS OF COMRADE STALIN. DO NOT QUESTION HIM OR DETAIN HIM….” Fewer than a dozen of these passes had be issued. A man could do what he wanted without anyone having the authority to question him. With the Shadow pass, there would be no secrets at the facility making the T-34. But knowing Stalin’s secrets is the most dangerous position in which a man can find himself.
As in THE EYE OF THE RED TSAR, there are frequent flashbacks to Pekkala’s time with Tsar Nicholas. Pekkala is younger and, to the degree that he is capable, he is happier. His loyalty to the tsar and his loyalty to the state are as one. In SHADOW PASS, the flashbacks are a counterpoint to Pekkala’s relationship with Stalin – Stalin and Russia are not one.
To describe Pekkala as enigmatic doesn’t come close to creating an image of the character. As readers learned in EYE OF THE RED TSAR, Pekkala had gone to Russia to serve in a corps made up of men from Finland. Pekkala’s honor brings him to the attention of Tsar Nicholas and Nicholas’ honor brings him Pekkala’s loyalty. Pekkala can do no less than serve his country even if, in so doing, he must follow the orders of Stalin.
It isn’t necessary to read EYE OF THE RED TSAR first but the second book can, perhaps, be better appreciated after reading the first. I recommend both books; Pekkala is a character worth following.