So, I finally got around to finishing Robert Harris’s Archangel, a book I have started at least a dozen times. Indeed, it is a hard book to get into, but it is not overly disappointing once you do. Set in “modern’ Russia, Archangel is a modern thriller with Harris’s trademark historical twist. The story is that of Christopher Kelso (a.k.a Fluke), a washed up historian/writer on the trail of Stalin’s legendary black notebook. Educating and entertaining, the story offers us a glimpse into both modern and historical Russia, as Kelso has to battle both his own and Russia’s demons, on a quest to find the truth.
Indeed, the first half of the book is both education and entertaining. The idea is a brilliant one, which is generally the litmus test I use for judging books. Furthermore, Harris adequately builds up suspense, as we delve further and further into the murky world of Soviet Russia and what it left behind. The novel also boasts an interesting and eclectic cast of characters, from rusty old communists, to overwhelmed academics, and to ambitious journalists and policemen. The idea, the characters and the intriguing backdrop work together to create a solid base for a good story.
However, the second half of the book fails to live up to the laborious build-up found in the first half. Frankly, once the veil drops from before your eyes, it is quite an underwhelming experience. The story feels underdone, not thought out, as if it was cobbled together hastily. One gets the impression that Harris either lost interest in his own story, or had an impossible deadline to meet. Neither the characters nor the plot live up to their true potential, or anything like what I envisaged.
I do not regret reading the book, but I do regret paying for it. Especially after his Cicero trilogy, Harris was fast becoming one of my favourite contemporary writers. However, this is just not up to his usual standard, even that of his earlier books. It is well researched, and the idea had great potential. But the second half of the book lets it down tremendously, and the ending is just a shocker. Harris seems to completely check out. If you aren’t paying for it, have plenty of time, and are a fan of Russian history, I would recommend this book. Otherwise, I would suggest one of Harris’s other fantastic books.
Author: Robert Harris
Pages: 415 (Paperback)
Josh’s Rating: 3/5
Originally posted @ Sakalabujan Magazine