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5.0 out of 5 stars Another gem for Harris
Robert Harris doesn't just give you mysteries, he tweaks the genre by adding his own "what if" historical twists. This latest is a gem. It begins somewhat slowly then the pace picks up until it reaches high speed in the frozen wastes of northern Russia.
His protagonist is far from the usual adventurer; he's Fluke Kelso, a cynical, down on his luck...
Published on Jan. 1 2001 by Dedicated reader Mark

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A good start that fizzles badly...
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...
Published on Feb. 28 2007 by richard tremblay


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3.0 out of 5 stars A good start that fizzles badly..., Feb. 28 2007
By 
richard tremblay (montréal, canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Archangel (Paperback)
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
This review is from: Archangel (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. One of _Fatherland_'s greatest strengths was that Xavier March was (like Arkady Renko in _Gorky Park_, a novel _Archangel_ falls far short of) a tremendously appealing character that you'd have to be inhuman not to empathize with. As far as I'm concerned, Kelso could get a bullet in the back of the head, and I wouldn't bat an eyelid.
So I hope Harris's next novel is truer to the _Fatherland_ mold. _Archangel_ is bad beyond conception.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Strong, but not as good as "Fatherland", April 9 2001
By 
Amazon Customer (Barrington, RI USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Archangel (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 (TX, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Archangel (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.
As Kelso decides to spend his final day in Moscow either refuting or corroborating Rapava's story, the writer comes face to face with Mamantov, a Stalinist who feels "the force of Comrade Stalin, even from the grave," and lives amidst the ex-dictator's memorabilia - miniatures, boxes, stamps, medals.
Surveying the collection, Kelso shudders, remembering that today one in six Russians believe Stalin to be their greatest leader. "Stalin was seven times more popular than Boris Yeltsin, while poor old Gorbachev hadn't even scored enough votes to register."
As Kelso becomes convinced that Stalin's secret papers do exist and obsessed with finding them, he is dogged by R. J. O'Brian, an overly zealous reporter whose beat is the world.
But, once the notebook is found instead of holding answers, it poses more questions. The last piece of the puzzle may lie in Archangel, a desolate White Sea port where "Everything had decayed. The facades of the buildings were pitted and peeling. Parts of the road had subsided."
Together Kelso and O'Brian drive 800 miles across an eerily deserted frozen landscape to reach Archangel before a storm rolling in from Siberia buries them or pursuing government agents capture them.
What the two find, Stalin's long hidden secret, is more appalling than either of them could have imagined.
With ever escalating suspense Mr. Harris catapults his mesmerizing narrative to a shocking denouement
Film rights for this unsettling tale have been sold to Mel Gibson, and it will surely capture a slot on bestseller lists.. Archangel is too close to possible for comfort, and too spellbinding to put down.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another gem for Harris, Jan. 1 2001
This review is from: Archangel (Mass Market Paperback)
Robert Harris doesn't just give you mysteries, he tweaks the genre by adding his own "what if" historical twists. This latest is a gem. It begins somewhat slowly then the pace picks up until it reaches high speed in the frozen wastes of northern Russia.
His protagonist is far from the usual adventurer; he's Fluke Kelso, a cynical, down on his luck academic attending a symposium in present day Moscow. The notorious Joe Stalin is, in a sense, the villain. Soon after he arrives in Russia Kelso is presented with evidence of secret papers of Stalin. From there he investigates a decades-old mystery. Along the way he meets unusual characters including a scholarly prostitute, an over-eager reporter and some scary old-guard Russians.
The plot is more than a simple mystery. Harris challenges you to imagine what will happen to the new Russia and what some of the forces were that shaped the old Soviet Union.
His characters, realistic descriptions of the Russian landscape in winter and the imaginative plot will keep you reading until the last sentence.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Harris is now three for three, Oct. 5 2000
By 
Orrin C. Judd "brothersjudddotcom" (Hanover, NH USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Archangel (Mass Market Paperback)
Were it not for the uniformly glowing reviews that each of his books has gotten in every major media outlet, you might well be able to convince me that I've overrated the thrillers of Robert Harris because of the conservative themes of his books. He's at it again in Archangel, the premise of which is that Stalin may have left behind a secret notebook when he died in March, 1953.
Once promising British historian of Soviet affairs, "Fluke" Kelso, is in post-Gorbachev Moscow for a symposium on the status of the old archives of the Soviet Union. After his speech he's approached by an elderly Russian man who, over many drinks, tells him an amazing story. The man, Papu Rapava, was a very young bodyguard for Lavrenty Beria, the brutal head of the NKVD, Stalin's state security agency. He was on duty the night that Stalin had his fatal stroke and drove Beria to the scene, then witnessed Beria hiding a notebook which he retrieved from Stalin's safe in the Kremlin. Stalin was notorious for not putting anything on paper, so when rivals toppled Beria from power, both he and Rapava were tortured, but neither revealed the whereabouts of their find.
Kelso sees the notebook as a final chance to redeem his disappointing career, but his fellow historians at the symposium think he's desperately grabbing at straws. Soon though he's got the Russian secret service and the shadowy remnants of the Communist Party on his tail and Rapava is murdered before they can recover the notebook. With the help of an American TV newsman and Rapava's daughter Kelso sets out on a dangerous journey that will take them to the frigid woods of Archangel and to a confrontation with Stalin's most dangerous legacy.
Like his other books, Harris uses the materials of actual history as a springboard for an exciting adventure with insidious political overtones. At one point the characters are discussing Russia's future and suggest that it will be bleak until the nation honestly reckons with the monstrous crimes of Stalin and Lenin. As they point out, in present day Russia, which never had a Nuremberg Trials or a South African-style Truth Commission, the Communist Party still receives a huge percentage of the vote in national elections and a startling 24% of the populace considers Stalin to be the greatest leader in the country's history. Harris lays out the case against these butchers and, once again, the discomforting subtext is that this is the regime that we cooperated with in WWII and then coexisted with for the next half century.
During the Cold War, novelists like John Le Carre created a really unfortunate literature of moral equivalency, which suggested that there was little or no difference between the West and the Communist East. That they and other intellectuals of the Left were successful is evidenced by the morally bankrupt policy of détente, which essentially represented our capitulation and an acceptance of the legitimacy of the Communists abhorrent system of totalitarian rule. Today there's at least one author whose books demand that we reconsider that whole period and our delusions about the Soviet Union, particularly in comparison to Nazi Germany. If you're looking for thrillers that, while action packed, will also make you think, you owe it to yourself to read the books of Robert Harris.
GRADE : A-
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4.0 out of 5 stars The other Fatherland, Aug. 14 2000
This review is from: Archangel (Mass Market Paperback)
Der Fuhrer is too horrible to be seen face-to-face in Harriss' debut novel "Fatherland", and was only referred to by radio announcers. In "Archangel", Harriss stokes the same idea from a different perspective - obsession with the 20th century's other monster, the evil Joseph Stalin. As in "Fatherland" and "Enigma" (the latter of the two is a great read when you consider it as a possible prequel to the former), the unlikely hero is something of a detective - in this case an historian. But Harriss refuses to succumb to the "snobbery of chronology" by which history is simply dismissed as anything more important than an explanation for how we are today. In Harriss world, the past has a habit of finding its way back to the present - whether it's the proof of genocide (Fatherland) or Soviet-backed massacres (Enigma), nothing is ever consigned to history without a chance to rear its head and spoil our ordered world. In "Archangel", the past is Stalin and his reign of terror. Post-Soviet Russia yearns for direction and a clique of ex-Soviet generals and politicians remain permanantly on the verge of returning the nation to soviet rule. Even the structures arranged by the Yeltsin government to create democracy have the seeds of autocracy, and those who seek to prevent the rebirth of the KGB may actually be following in its footsteps. But it's business as usual for the westerners who exploit Russia's resources and its potential for a market. The hero-historian, lead on to believe that the official story of "Uncle Joe" may be incomplete, looks deeper into records and finds that the dead dictator's legacy may yet be unrealized. Helped - sometimes pushed - by an American TV journalist and by the daughter of a Stalinist security guard, the hero rtacks down the ephemeral clues - stories and other conspiracy theories - for the hard evidence: a journal pried out of Stalin's desk by Beria. But even that prize isn't enough, and the heroes head out to Archangel, the irradiated northern frontier of Russia, where they confront, not only the truth, but their powerlessness against it and (gasp) their own complicity in its realization. "Archangel" arguably surpasses previous novels - though Harriss has yet to draw a world as fully realized as post-war Berlin of "Fatherland" - in that the story is built on the experiences of flawed and credible charachters. In any novel built on old stories told to the main charachters, there is always the plot-weakness that the stories may be completely fake. Harriss deftly turns this into a strength by highlighting a sort of intellectual obsession by which the human charachters can't help but believe the stories. This isn't as simple as the obsession of Harriss previous charachters (in Fatherland, the hero is shocked to learn that his warm socks were knit from the hair of concentration camp victims; the cryptoanalyst in "Enigma" was motivated by love and the need to save England from the U-Boats), and the obsession drives the book. When one of those stories recounts Lavrenti Beria's last day at work, expecting to take over Stalin's job, the obsession becomes palpable. The former KGB boss, as Harriss descibes him, has no idea what's waiting for him within the Kremlin. History tells us he should have called in sick that morning. But who'll warn us not repeat Beria's mistakes?
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3.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity, July 24 2000
This review is from: Archangel (Mass Market Paperback)
Robert Harris in his novel Archangel presents me with something of a dilemma. I enjoyed thoroughly some aspects of the book and others I found to be almost unreadable. I do not have an issue with plots that are far-fetched or fantastic in nature, but to convince me they do need an element of conviction. At times, particularly in the latter half of Archangel, I felt the author wanted nothing more than to get the book over with.
Joseph Stalin is the central figure in the plot, his thoughts, beliefs and actions shape the events of the novel. Indeed, Harris writes well of the power of a belief system that led to the terrors of Stalinist Russia. He conveys the almost depressing fear of that period in history and transposes it to a modern day Soviet Union. Thus Harris is able to set the scene of the book in an effective way and the tension builds in a convincing manner. However, in doing so Archangel is set in an almost Orwellian Russia, where the bad guys are so bad that they come over a little cliched and the Russian people become caricatures, almost totally grey and devoid of humanity.
There was real scope in this book to develop an excellent story line to a thrilling conclusion. For me this did not happen in that the conclusion was so predictable that perhaps the description 'thriller' was not an appropriate one. In rushing the second half of the novel and putting so little effort into the conclusion Robert Harris missed a opportunity to make a mediocre novel into an excellent one.
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2.0 out of 5 stars The return of Frankenstein, May 1 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Archangel (Mass Market Paperback)
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 takes off for Archangel. Then go buy some other book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A great book, April 27 2000
This review is from: Archangel (Mass Market Paperback)
Robert Harris has definately proved himself to be among the top writers in the business. He intriges you with facts pertaining to the setting of the story. The information used in this book was well researched. Fiction is twisted in with the interesting facts of Russian history and Josef Stalin. There are many things very pleasing in this book. It is suspenseful, informative, and exciting. The suspense keeps you guessing what will happen next throughout the book. He uses foreshadowing with a twist to it. Never do you know for sure what will happen next. This book is very informative. It gives facts of Josef Stalin mixed with a little bit of fiction. He gives the readers a feel for what Russia was really like under Josef Stalin's rule. Throughout the book the question what-if is asked. Excitement is another element the book has. There is a lot of conflicts that has you racing back and forth wondering what will happen. Once the climax is reached the excitement level really rises. The action makes you want to keep reading. The end of the book is also great. This is definately a book to buy if you like excitement and mystery.
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Archangel by Robert Harris (Paperback - Feb. 29 2000)
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