“What do you know about art, Volk?”
The opening line of Volk’s Game by Brent Ghelfi, and a question that leads to much trouble for the cold, hard Russian gangster, Alexei Volkovoy (AKA Volk). Lee Child provides the front cover quote on the Faber & Faber paperback – “A hard, fast... excellent debut.” And frankly, I have no argument with that at all.
Volk’s chilling reputation as a veteran of the Chechen war and his current status in the
This novel is chockfull of twists, turns and outright squiggles. Barely a page goes by without an injection of action. There’s a fair whack of suspense and the violence, though far from splatter and gore for the sake of it, is very hard-hitting. If you’re looking for some hard-boiled, tough guy fiction, Ghelfi provides it in spades. And there’s the added bonus that the tale is set in
As a protagonist, Volk is of the risky, easy-to-hate mould. His past leads you to feel some sympathy for him, and Ghelfi masterfully gets you on the gangster’s side for a good portion of the book. But he does this, in my opinion, in order to heighten the impact when he whips the rug from under the reader. By the end of the novel I was conflicted in my opinion of Volk. The only thing I knew for certain, was that I wanted to learn more about him. So, I’ll be eagerly anticipating the follow-up, Volk’s Shadow.
The entire cast is made up of well-drawn, three-dimensional characters, right down to the bit players. The plot is tight and interesting, though not overly complex. The prose moves fast when it needs to, but takes the odd detour to paint some excellent visuals. Ghelfi can write. No question about it.
He’s not quite in Adrian McKinty’s league, but there are some very interesting parallels in both writers’ protagonists. Michael Forsythe, from McKinty’s Dead trilogy is also a tough gangster-type with ties to the military. And he’s getting by on a prosthetic foot. So too, Alexei Volkovoy. And both characters are experts in getting themselves into some seriously intense no-win situations and getting out by the skin of their teeth. For me, Forsythe has the edge due to his black Northern Irish humour, but Volk comes in at a close second.
So, if you’re a McKinty fan who’s read all he has to offer, I’d urge you to give Ghelfi a chance. Volk’s Game is a blistering read. A literary Molotov cocktail. The plot has more layers than a Babushka doll. You