Born: United Kingdom
LLB- London School of Economics, London, UK
Publisher: Self-published & Peach Publishing
Thriller Sub-genre: Spy/Conspiracy Thriller
The Simon Review
Awhile back I wrote a review on Nik Krasno’s Oligarch series which is a conspiracy thriller series about a Ukrainian oligarch. I found that the oligarchs make for great evil characters in thrillers and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to review G.W. Eccles’ Alex Leskin series which centers on the oligarchs of Russia. Both the Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs obtained their wealth by taking advantage of the political and economic turmoil that occurred as a result of the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union. The Russian oligarchs in particular, took advantage of what is now termed the ‘loans for share’ scheme which happened under Boris Yeltsin’s regime. Yeltsin wanted to speed up privatization as quickly as possible, so he decided to auction off shares of the regime’s most desirable businesses in energy, telecommunication and metallurgy as collateral for loans to help the ailing government. If the loans were to go into default, the lenders would then gain the title to the shares. Only a handful of banks got in on the auctions and the government defaulted on the loans which meant only a handful of people acquired ownership of the most important assets of Russia which made them extremely wealthy as well as powerful.
In Eccles’ first novel, The Oligarch, Makim Blok is the oligarch and he owns the, ‘The Kombinat’, the largest mining corporation in the world located in the Siberian town of Tyndersk. Russia’s President Karpev, a Putin-like character, is cracking down on the oligarchs and is seizing back The Kombinat, which Blok had obtained during the ‘loan for share’ scheme. Blok is not about to give up his most important asset, so he lays a plot to foil Karpev’s plan and the excitement goes from there.
In the second novel, Corruption of Power, the oligarch in this novel is actually a brother and sister, Max and Vika, who have inherited their wealth from their oligarch father, Lev Usenko, who passed away. The Usenko family owns a corporation known as the Chestny Kombinat which has been the center of their wealth. In Corruption of Power, President Karpev is working in collaboration with the Max Usenko on construction of an oil pipeline that will span from Turkmenistan to India to open up access of Russia’s oil to the Far East. This would be a lucrative deal for Russia as well as for the Usenko family and other investors. The big concern is that the pipeline must go through Afghanistan and the safety of the pipeline is in question. Max Usenko has guaranteed the safety of the pipeline to the government but he is being clandestine on how he plans to go about that. This is where Alex Leksin comes into play.
Alex Leksin is an interesting character, much like a flawed James Bond. Born in Russia, his parents moved to England when he was young where he was raised and educated with degrees from Cambridge and Harvard. While at Harvard he was recruited by MI5, British Intelligence, to work in their financial forensic unit. Leksin left MI5 to go solo as a private investigator whose main client is the Russian government who pays him a tidy sum. He has all the makings of a superhero except for a couple of flaws; he has a substantial cocaine addiction and a phobia of fire. Both of these flaws have gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion.
There is a lot going on in both of these novels with a number of characters in different locales, so there is a significant amount of skipping from one scene to another. Additionally, many of the characters don’t have names like Bob Smith and Laurie Williams, but more like Nicholai Korakov or Vika Usenko located in places like Tyndersk and Ingushetia, so for us mono language people who only speak English, it takes a little effort to get through the first part of the books. But once you become familiar with what is going on, the pace of the novels move quickly and it is one exciting moment after another until the end.
I think Eccles has a great start to a series and Alex Leskin is a likable character. Even though Leskin has a high moral standard, the Russian government does not, so it will be interesting to see how Leskin deals with that as the series progresses. The two novels are written as standalones and they can be read as such, with one exception and that would be the character Nadia. Nadia has very different roles in both books, so how you view her will make a difference depending on which book you read first.
Most Favorite Novel in the Series- The Oligarch-because all the action happened in Arctic conditions which made for a thrilling ride.
Least Favorite Novel in the Series- Corruption of Power-because Leksin overwhelming number of brushes with death and capture made the enemy look just a little too incompetent.
What about the science? There really isn’t much in the form of science in the series with exception of a brief section in Corruption of Power.
The Alex Leskin Technical Word in Review: Hydrogen Fluoride-is a nasty chemical. Hydrogen fluoride, HF, exists either as a gas or dissolved in water as an acid. Hydrogen fluoride is known to be a weak acid, but don’t let that fool you, it can cause extreme burns. Hydrofluoric acid is readily absorbed through the skin and will immediately damage nerve tissue, so initially there often is no pain associated with exposure. Not until hours later after the damage is extensive will the damage become quite apparent which includes severe pain and ulceration. The gaseous form a hydrogen fluoride is not any better as it causes severe damage of the lungs which often results in death.
The early pioneers in fluorine research were nicknamed the ‘fluorine matyrs’ because of the extreme danger working around hydrogen fluoride. Chemists Humphrey Davy, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, and Louis Jacques Thénard suffered excruciating pain after breathing in small amounts of hydrogen fluoride. Davy’s eyes were also damaged. Others did not fare as well, chemists George and Thomas Knox were exposed; Thomas almost died and George was bedridden for three years. Chemists Paulin Louyet and Jerome Nickles both died from exposure. Even Nobel Prize winning chemist Henri Moissan was exposed a number of times and survived but exposure may have contributed to his early death. Oh, those crazy chemists, this was obviously before the days of litigation and establishment of environmental health and safety departments.
So with all the damage that hydrogen fluoride inflicts, what good does it do? Well for one, it is a precursor to many pharmaceuticals including the antidepressant, Prozac. It is also used in the production of Teflon. Additionally it is used in the oil refinery and petroleum industry, and in a diluted form can be used as a very effective cleaner to remove rust and water stains.
Talget took the phone and scrolled down the list, squinting at the complicated terms. Dimethylamide … phosphoryl oxychloride … sodium chloride … pinacolyl alcohol … isopropyl alcohol … hydrogen fluoride … methyphosphonyl difluoride … tributylamine … diisopropyl carbonate … As Talgat read, his face clouded over. If he was drawing the right conclusion, then this had never even figured on his radar screen of possibilities.- Corruption of Power
Books in the Series by Order:
For the time being I am not going to list the most and least popular book of the series because the total number of ratings in Goodreads, Amazon, Library Thing, and Barnes and Noble add up to less than 100 for at least one of the books, which means statistically they don’t really have any meaning. So read the books and give a rating.
Winner of the 2013 Silver Medal at the Global E-Book Awards for Best Thriller
Winner of the 2013 Independent Publishers Book Award
Upright in the backseat, the FSB officer waited for the Range Rover to glide to a halt outside the battlemented walls of Novodevichy Convent.
Alex Leskin: Private investigator that does independent work for Russia. Born in the former Soviet Union but raised in London. Educated at Cambridge and Harvard.
Makim Blok: Oligarch
Anya Blok: Makim’s daughter
Joe Clinton: American journalist
Nicholai Korakov: Deputy Minister at the Department of Overseas Development in Russia. College friends with Leskin.
Lena Leskin: Alex’s sister
Igor Karpev: President of Russia
General Damchenko: Deputy head of the FSB
Colonel Mishin: Head of the FSB in Tyndersk
Grinkov: Special agent under Korakov
Nadia: Mercenary and terrorist
Elected amid widespread protests and allegations of vote rigging for a controversial third term, the Russian President is determined to destroy the oligarchs before they destroy him. When the global economic meltdown wipes out their wealth and they turn to the government as lender of last resort, the President seizes this chance to demolish their power base. His greatest opponent – Anton Blok, owner of the mighty Tyndersk Kombinat – faces far more than just financial ruin as his empire threatens to fall apart, and the President knows that his old enemy will stop at nothing to avoid catastrophe. With battlelines drawn, he turns to Alex Leksin, a British troubleshooter of Russian descent, to thwart Blok’s plans. Against the challenge of hostile Arctic conditions, Leksin must tread a dangerous path through a labyrinth of corruption until the exciting and unexpected denouement takes place in Russia’s northernmost seaport.
He glanced through the long list of assignments: an oligarch laundering billions of illegal income; corruption at the heart of Moscow tax police; a territorial war inside Russia’s massive aluminum industry.
Looking for a review of The Oligarch? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.69 out of 5 stars based on 26 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.86 out of 5 stars based on 22 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 4.26 out of 5 stars based on 31 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: not rated
Library Thing Rating: 5.00 out of 5 stars based on 2 rating
Total Score 4.58 (updated 1/6/17)
Winner of the 2016 Bronze Medal for the Independent Publishers Book Award for Best Mystery/Thriller E-Book
A helicopter crested the hill, flying high and fast.
Alex Leskin, Nicholai Korakov, Lena Leskin, Igor Karpev, and Nadia
Erlan Saidov: Prime minister of the Russian Federation
Lev Usenko: Oligarch and founder of Chestny Kombinat, recently deceased
Vika Usenko: Daughter of Lev Usenko and formally fiancée of Alex Leskin
Max Usenko: Son of Lev Usenko
Russia and Turkmenistan
Ukraine is only the opening gambit, so far as the Russian President is concerned. With his sights set on expansion and undeterred by the prospect of a new Cold War, he intends to shift Russia’s economic focus towards the East in order to shield the country from the reprisals that his next move is sure to provoke. The President delegates to his Prime Minister the redeployment of Russia’s vast energy resources, a vital component of his strategy. But when this plan tilts off-course, it threatens to spread the current conflagration in the Middle East right up to Russia’s own borders. Against a background of political corruption, state-sponsored terrorism and increased Taliban insurgency, the President turns to independent troubleshooter ALEX LEKSIN whose investigations take him from Moscow into one of the world’s most sinister countries, right at the heart of Central Asia.
Looking for a review of Corruption of Power? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.74 out of 5 stars based on 67 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.78 out of 5 stars based on 110 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 4.44 out of 5 stars based on 55 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: not rated
Library Thing Rating: not rated
Total Score 4.69 (updated 1/6/17)