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Archangel [Paperback]

Robert Harris
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 2 2009
Present-day Russia is the setting for this stunning new novel from Robert Harris, author of the bestsellers Fatherland and Enigma.
Archangel tells the story of four days in the life of Fluke Kelso, a dissipated, middle-aged former Oxford historian, who is in Moscow to attend a conference on the newly opened Soviet archives.
One night, Kelso is visited in his hotel room by an old NKVD officer, a former bodyguard of the secret police chief Lavrenty Beria. The old man claims to have been at Stalin's dacha on the night Stalin had his fatal stroke, and to have helped Beria steal the dictator's private papers, among them a notebook.
Kelso decides to use his last morning in Moscow to check out the old man's story. But what starts as an idle inquiry in the Lenin Library soon turns into a murderous chase across nighttime Moscow and up to northern Russia--to the vast forests near the White Sea port of Archangel, where the final secret of Josef Stalin has been hidden for almost half a century.
Archangel combines the imaginative sweep and dark suspense of Fatherland with the meticulous historical detail of Enigma. The result is Robert Harris's most compelling novel yet.

From the Paperback edition.

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From Amazon

Before political journalist Robert Harris turned to fiction and resurrected Hitler for his best selling novel Fatherland, he also wrote a hugely entertaining account of the farce surrounding the publication of the hoax Hitler diaries. Archangel, with the obvious exception of substituting Hitler for that other 20th-century ogre Josef Stalin, can be seen as something of a combination of these previous projects. The novel opens in present-day Russia where a louche Oxford academic, Christopher "Fluke" Kelso, is attending a conference on the newly available Stalin archives. Kelso quickly becomes embroiled in a quest for some of Uncle Joe's still secret papers--and also a quest to make his own academic reputation--but soon uncovers more than he bargains for. The ghosts of the old authoritarian past exert a peculiar and all too powerful tug on Yeltsin's fragile capitalist democracy and as Kelso is drawn ever nearer to the secret that lies in the remote White Sea port of Archangel so the tragedies of the past become hideously more plausible in the present. Harris is historically sound, politically astute and his acute insight into the apparatus of state repression and minds of despots is unnerving. But most of all he tells a terrific yarn and Archangel sees him on top form. This is his best yet.--Nick Wroe --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

As in his first thriller, Fatherland, Harris again plunders the past to tell an icy-slick story set mostly in the present. Readers are plunged into mystery, danger and the affairs of great men at once, as, outside Moscow in 1953, Stalin suffers a fatal stroke, and the notorious Beria, head of Stalin's secret police, orders a young guard to swipe a key from the dictator's body, to stand watch as Beria uses it to steal a notebook from Stalin's safe and then to help bury the notebook deep in the ground. These events unfold not in flashback proper but as told to American Sovietologist C.R.A. "Fluke" Kelso by the guard, now an old drunk. Following a lead from the old man's story as well as other clues, Kelso, soon accompanied by an American satellite-TV journalist, goes in pursuit of the notebook and, later, the explosive secret it contains; others, including those who cherish the days of Stalin's might, are on the chase as well. With this hunt as backbone, the plot fleshes out in muscular fashion, fed by assorted conspiratorial interests and a welter of colorful, if sometimes too obvious (Stalin as madman; Beria as sadist), characters. The crumbling ruin that is today's Moscow comes alive in the details, which continue as Kelso's search moves north into the frozen desolation of the White Sea port of Archangel. Sex, violence and violent sex all play a part in Harris's entertaining, well-constructed, intelligently lurid tale, which, along with his first two novels, places him squarely in the footsteps not of "Conrad, Green and le Carre," as the publisher would have it, but of Frederick Forsyth. And, like Forsyth, Harris has yet to write a novel without bestseller stamped on it?including this one. Simultaneous audio book; optioned for film by Mel Gibson.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Late one night a long time ago-before you were even born, boy-a bodyguard stood on the veranda at the back of a big house in Moscow smoking a cigarette. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A good start that fizzles badly... Feb. 28 2007
Archangel is a two-part novel. First one gives a fine if bleak picture of Russia today, where everything is for sale, if only for survival sake, much to the chagrin of the sellers. This part is quite entertaining, with well-defined characters (those puffy academics) and atmosphere to boot. The second part of the novel-which should deliver the punch and is only able to deliver embarassed laughters-fails, and Lord does it fails, to convince the reader. Now imagine a new Stalin, looking, talking, frowning, grinning remarkably like the original one, a man who has lived all his life in the remotest of places, mimicking dialectics by having learned by heart his old master's speeches and writings, still able to pick off with an old gun the best of a small contingent of Red Army attack troops... The fact that Stalin's return were to be welcomed again by some segment of the population of modern Russia is not in question, he sure would be, as Hitler would be, as slavery would be, there is always those who regret the tyrant or the tyranny, what is in question here is the conditions in which this new Frankenstein is created, those are ex-cru-ci-a-ting-ly unbelievable. The novel falls apart real bad at the end. Read the novel's first part, it is very good stuff indeed; stop reading when Kelso and O'Brian take off for Archangel. Then go buy some other book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars what was he thinking? Dec 20 2001
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I write this review as (1) someone who loved _Fatherland_, (2) teaches Russian history professionally, (3) has lived and studied in Russia many times since the late '80s. And I hated this book beyond belief.
To explain why would take a small novel to begin with, and I'd give away whatever lame excuse for suspense Harris's writing contains. I'll stick with three things.
First, the excitement of the novel is based largely on the fact that a secret has been kept from Stalin's death in 1953 till the mid-1990s, when a British historian of the USSR happens to stumble across it. The secret's location happens to be the Russian city of Archangel -- which, as it happens, is the last word screamed out (in the novel) by Lavrentii Beria, the secret police chief who's killed shortly after Stalin's death (in real life) and goes to his grave knowing where the novel's secret is kept. The word "Archangel" is supposedly baffling to Beria's interrogators, and no one connects it with the actual city. The problem here is that, as anyone who's taken 2 weeks of freshman Russian knows, the Russian word for the city is "Arkhangelsk," while the word for archangel is "arkhangel." So no Russian would be confused by Beria's last words. The fact that Harris makes so much out of this linguistic confusion shows that he doesn't know nearly as much about Russia as he does about Germany.
Thirdly, Fluke Kelso -- the British historian who serves as the main character -- is totally unappealing. Harris has created the most boring, cliched, unlikeable picture of an academic imaginable: hard-drinking, womanizing (is there a novel anywhere that doesn't depict a professor sleeping with his students?), and self-absorbed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Strong, but not as good as "Fatherland" April 9 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
First off, for those of you think that "Archangel" is an alternate history in the tradition of Harris' excellent "Fatherland", it's not. This novel is more of a "what if"; an examination of the ripple that one change in history might have. I don't want to discuss the specifics for fear of ruining the plot, but suffice it to say that it involves the politics of modern day Russia.
Overall this is a strong novel. Harris once again makes good use of real history to set the tone, and in this case displays an astute take on the political situation in Russia. He wisely recognizes that freedom without prosperity can make people nostaligic for even the most brutal regimes. Furthermore, in its latter stages, "Archangel" serves as a cautionary tale for the dangers of nationalism run amok.
So there is a lot of meat to this novel. Unfrotunately, Harris hurries through the last 50 pages or so. Of course, I understand the need to create a sense of urgency and pace to any thriller, but by the end I almost felt like he was just bailing out. There were a lot of different paths that might have led to a more satisfying conclusion.
All in all though, "Archangel" is a strong political/thriller, which is let down, but not ruined, by a rather rushed conclusion.
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4.0 out of 5 stars TOO SPELLBINDING TO PUT DOWN Jan. 2 2001
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
A setting that chills the bone; a premise that chills the heart. These are the pillars of Archangel, a tension driven third novel by former BBC correspondent and London Times columnist Robert Harris.
As in Fatherland (1992), with its disturbing thesis that Nazi Germany had been victorious in World War II and Hitler still lived, Mr. Harris skillfully blends fact and fiction to craft an equally frightening tale of contemporary Russia.
"There can be no doubt that it is Stalin rather than Hitler who is the most alarming figure of the twentieth century.....Stalin, unlike Hitler has not been exorcised....Stalin stands in a historical tradition of rule by terror, which existed before him, which he refined, and which could exist again. His, not Hitler's, is the specter that should worry us."
These words are spoken by "Fluke" Kelso, an antithetic hero, to be sure. Thrice divorced, an unsuccessful writer, he is a historian, a Sovietologist who greets alcohol with enthusiasm and his colleagues with ennui.
In unforgivingly frigid Moscow, where "air tasted of Asia - of dust and soot and Eastern spices, cheap gasoline, black tobacco, sweat," Kelso is a part of a symposium invited to view recently opened archival materials.
He is visited in his hotel room by Papu Rapava, an older man, a drunk, "a survivor of the Arctic Circle camps," who claims to have been an eye-witness to Stalin's death. Rapava says he was once bodyguard and chauffeur for Laventy Beria, the chief of the secret police. Rapava claims to have accompanied Beria to Stalin's room the night the GenSec suffered a stroke, and to have assisted Beria in stealing Stalin's private papers, a black oilskin notebook, which was later buried.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Thin and improbable but a quick read nonetheless
Published 2 months ago by D. H. Burney
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, and Bad.
I did like it, but it had some poor ideas shown. Like the keeping a secret for a decades in Russia. The good parts, in my humble opinion, show the more personal insights of family... Read more
Published on June 22 2007 by Matthew Gawelczyk
4.0 out of 5 stars Great writing
This was truly a novel I enjoyed. Sharon Shinn writes in a pleasant manner, and her stories are so unbelieveable, that they become believable. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2005 by J.Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Archangel: As Icey and Cold as the Eyes of Stalin Himself!
I found Archangel by Robert Harris to be mesmeizing in its unflinching blending of fact and fiction. Read more
Published on April 18 2002 by Uncle Chino
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, amusing and informative
This is the first Robert Harris novel I have read and I enjoyed the story. Harris gets straight to the point with the story and every step by the main character, a historian called... Read more
Published on Dec 11 2001 by V Nemana
5.0 out of 5 stars Definate 5 star material
I dont normally submit reviews, but felt I had to defend this book against a paltry 5 star rating. It successfully combines the best features of an historical novel and a thriller... Read more
Published on Nov. 22 2001 by "house_dad"
4.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric & well reasearched
I had especially saved "Archangel" as a read during my first-ever trip to Russia, and hats off to Mr. Read more
Published on Sept. 26 2001 by C. Kuschel-Toerber
4.0 out of 5 stars A post cold-war, cold-war style trhiller
This is a compelling page-turner that will keep you up at night. If you enjoy cold-war thrillers, Robert Harris has figured out how to bring them back to life in this post... Read more
Published on April 1 2001 by Tom Williams
3.0 out of 5 stars Bang! Fizzle! Flop!
When I first began reading Archangel (my first Robert Harris read), I was captivated. The opening scene set by Harris is incredible and really draws you into the story. Read more
Published on March 6 2001 by Albert L. Riess III
4.0 out of 5 stars From Russia Without Tears
An almost-un-putable down book that just oozes atmosphere. I learnt more about Russia in the few enjoyable days I spent with this book than a lifetime and many Russian relations... Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2001 by Sidney Rosenberg
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