According to his biographical note, Adrian Churchward lived and worked in Moscow, Budapest, and Prague as an East-West trade lawyer between 1984 and 1998. 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.”
Scott Mitchell, one of the two point-of-view characters in Moscow Bound, is a young British human-rights lawyer who is living and working in Moscow. When the book opens, Scott, flying back to Moscow, has just won a significant case against the Russian army in the European Court of Human Rights for its crimes in Chechnya. This has had two effects: Scott is a hero to Chechnyians (which gives him at least a few people he can trust in Moscow’s house of mirrors), and he has pissed off the Russian army (which removes him from the plane under guard and interrogates him).
Now add a gorgeous young Russian mother, separated from her oligarch husband (powerful enough to dine occasionally with Putin). Ekaterina, who with good reason does not trust the Russian government, asks Scott to help her find the father she never knew, someone spirited away by the KGB years before. Scott reluctantly decides to help her.
Now add a second POV character, Lieutenant-General Pravda of the GRU, military intelligence. A body has been fished out of the Moscow River, someone who Pravda knows should not have been in Moscow, someone who has been assassinated in a particularly suspicious manner. When an elderly pensioner is murdered in the same way, Pravda, an honest and patriotic soldier, realizes an explosive military secret is at risk.
The book is a lot of fun and I gobbled it down. How is it possible for an English human-rights lawyer, even one who speaks fluent Russian, to penetrate the various circles within circles to find a long-vanished father? What is the connection between the GRU and the murdered men? Who are the puppet masters above Pravda and his competitors in the Russian Federation Security Service? If you can’t trust the government, if you can’t trust the police, if you can’t trust the military, how can you live?
Moscow Bound may be Churchward’s first novel, but he handles the various threads competently and his knowledge of Russian life in the 21st century adds depth and color to the story. I noticed only one or two unfortunately convenient coincidences among the events, and there seemed to be one or two threads that he never tied off—although that may be my fault because I was having so much fun on the ride and wasn’t paying attention. Nevertheless, it’s a thriller set firmly in a world very much like our own, one of my criterion for a book worth my time.