Carrol & Graf, 2007, $15.95, 442 pages, ISBN 978-078671-923-5
It’s part mystery, part swashbuckler and entirely a lot of fun as it follows the adventures of a White Russian expatriate, Count Alexander Karlov, around the globe in a rollicking good adventure story called China Star by Bartle Bull. The narrative begins in Paris, France in 1922, where we are introduced to a group of penniless Russian aristocrats and army officers. They’re the “Whites,” the loyalist aristocracy who fought for Czar Nicolas Romanov II, and lost, to the Reds, in the 1917 Russian revolution. We learn that Karlov, who fled Russia in an icebreaking ship in the last days of the empire, has regained his fortune in Shanghai, China, and is in Paris to hunt for his twin sister Katerina, kidnapped from the Trans-Siberian railway as she was fleeing the advancing Red army. We also learn that Vladimir Lenin, now in firm control of mother Russia, has teams of assassins tracking down and killing all the members of the old regime that they can find, lest they return to Russia with the British army to overthrow the communists. All of this happens in the few pages of the first chapter. A hunt and chase follows that takes the reader from Paris to Cairo, to the island of Ceylon, and finally, to the Far East and China. It is exciting, relentless and thoroughly entertaining. Bartle Bull has been called “the most underrated, least heralded novelist of our time,” by none other than Forbes Magazine. He is a member of the Royal Geographic Society and the Explorers Club and was formerly the publisher of The Village Voice, a New York City weekly newspaper. China Star will keep you entertained while you learn a lot of world history and geography at the same time. If you can switch off the TV or PlayStation and read, you’ll never regret it. And who cares anyway, if you got to the highest level of this year’s soon-to-be-forgotten, “must have” computer game? Besides, you can put the money you would have spent to better use. Like college tuition. Hey, there’s an idea . . .