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Simon Sebag Montefiore – ‘One Night in Winter’ book review

An adroit, historical page-turner

Simon Sebag Montefiore – the historian behind the acclaimed ‘Jerusalem: The Biography’ – has set his latest historical novel in Moscow during the last days of World War II, where the increasingly despotic Stalin has the country locked in a finger trap of suspicion and fear.

Children of the Communist Party elite attending Moscow’s most privileged school take refuge in idly re-enacting romantic duels pulled from the pages of Russian literature. But when one of these foppish jollies goes horribly wrong, the authorities investigating the case begin to believe a cover-up is somehow afoot. Sweaty conjecture leads to intense scrutiny and soon the children’s parents and teachers find their secret lives out in the open and dragging them slowly toward the Gulag.

Delicately plotted and buried within a layered, elliptical narrative ‘One Night in Winter’ is also a fidgety page-turner that adroitly weaves a huge cast of characters into an arcane world. It might jolt a little when changing gears for the third act, but by then it has built up enough steam to see you through to the strange and affecting climax.

Simon Sebag Montefiore's new novel 'One Night in Winter' is published on September 5 by Century priced £16.99. Click here to buy a copy.

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