When my bookclub chose a thriller taking place in Russia for the month of June, I was ecstatic. I am a big fan of crime procedurals and I love Saint Petersburg, so I was sold – until I realized it was actually written by a Brit. Now, I’m not saying people cannot write books in whichever culture they’d wish to, I was just apprehensive because when you tackle something like this, you better do a superb job of it – otherwise it will feel like a parody.
Unfortunately, Motherland didn’t manage, in my opinion, to paint a picture I find believable. While the story took place in Russia, it was not a crime thriller that made use of its backdrop in subtle ways, making it add to the narrative and bring out the best of a beautiful, if deeply flawed, landscape.
Instead, it heavy-handedly used the concept of corruption to paint a picture of a no-man’s land where everyone is corrupt and people should not be crossing the street without security. It read more like anti-Russia propaganda a than a mystery novel.
Now, I am not saying that there is no corruption in Russia. I’m sure there is plenty and that it affects the lives of the average citizen on multiple fronts frequently (I come from Latin America, believe me when I say I am no stranger to the concept of corruption on all levels of society and government). However, feeling the need to mention it every second phrase, and using it as an explanation for everything and anything just felt lazy to me. I feel like, were I Russian, I would be deeply offended by Motherland.
If you manage to get past the anti-Russian propaganda (sorry, this is just a pet peeve of mine), the story itself was okay: a tad predictable (the guy you assume is the bad guy at the beginning of the book turns out to be the bad guy after all, regardless of the FSB smoke and mirrors attempts), with no big twists and no deeply compelling characters.
I’m trying really hard to find something good to say about the book to end this review on a lighter note, because I feel a bit guilty right now. I’m sure the author put his blood, sweat and tears into his work, and I feel terrible about the fact I disliked it so much, but I’m really sorry that nothing in particular comes to mind. So let’s just say the cover is really great and leave it at that.