The Denouncer, by Paul M. Levitt

20542739Paul M. Levitt’s The Denouncer is a muddle of accusations and plots and betrayals and—above all—fear. It begins with a shocking double murder. Sasha Parsky sees his parents being bundled into an OGPU van after being denounced as kulaks and snaps. He kills the pair of them with a scythe, hides the bodies, and runs back to his college. He sends his parents north. He never sees them again.

The local OGPU commander, Major Filatov, has a pretty good idea what Sasha did, but can’t prove it. Still, he can make Sasha do whatever he wants. He sends him to an academy, as the new director, to spy on the staff and the former director. Avram Brodsky, the former head man, spent a year in a Kolyma gulag for unorthodox ideas. Filatov believes he can’t be trusted. Sasha refuses to play the Soviet game. He won’t denounce anyone. So, he gives Filatov just enough information to keep the government from crashing down on everyone like a ton of iron bricks.

Meanwhile, conspiracies seem to blossom around Sasha. There’s a plot to assassinate a corrupt OPGU chief in Ryazan. There’s a plot to oust Sasha from the school. One of the teachers is creating seditious photo compositions. A villager is manufacturing forged documents. And there’s Sasha in the middle, refusing to denounce anyone.

This all sounds very exciting. I was thrilled to get a copy. Unfortunately, the execution left me frustrated and—frankly—bored. Levitt tells you everyone’s feelings and motivations. Nothing is left up for you to interpret. My brain had nothing to do while I was reading except taking in bald facts. Because there are so many secrets and characters, there’s nothing to focus on. Sasha is in the middle because he knows all these people, but he’s only a protagonist by default. Plus, the first time we meet him, he kills two people. He spends the rest of the time being a mild-mannered academic.

The only part of The Denouncer I liked was the ending. Filatov gathered everyone together at a dinner with a representative from the Moscow office. Like a stock detective, he reveals everyone’s secrets. The scene works well, even with its overtones of the Last Supper. Of course, since this is 1936 Soviet Russia, the good are punished and the wicked are usually promoted. No one gets their just desserts.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 7 August 2014.


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