Tale of a Russian Hero

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Today is the last of my short posts regarding the characters in my newly released book, Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel. So far I have covered Ivan III Vasilyevich, Marfa Boretskaya, Princess Zoe (Sophia) Paleologos, and Ivan Kokoshkin. The last person on my list is Oleg Menshikov, right-hand man and best friend of Dmitry Boretsky, leader of the Novgorodian army and eldest child of Marfa Boretskaya, Novgorod’s mayoress. His name – Oleg Menshikov – is after one of my favourite Russian actors, also called Oleg Menshikov, star of such films as the Russian classic Burnt by the Sun and the all-star European movie The Barber of Siberia. My Oleg Menshikov is a man full of love and honour for his country, as well as loyalty in abundance for those close to him. In the book we can observe how he thinks and acts less selfishly than the greedy Novgorodian leadership and boyars, who only ever think about their own gain. In some ways he seems anachronistic for the times, a man more suitable living in the Romantic eighteenth century, a Russian warrior Byron or Keats, focused on the goodness in man in a time when human life was of little importance.

In one scene from the novel, just before the battle of Andrushevo, Menshikov turns to an old soldier:

Menshikov dismounted and walked over to one of his soldiers. The man, in his fifties and small, looked the antithesis of Menshikov’s rugged masculinity. He had in his hands a pitch-fork. His face, dirty but intense and concentrated, looked like it had seen blood and carnage before.

What’s your name soldier?” Menshikov asked him, putting his hand on the man’s shoulder.

Pavel Grigoryovich Kuznetsov, General.”

And the outcome, Pavel Grigoryovich, will we win a great victory?”

The man looked at his general with respect, almost bordering on worship – but it wasn’t quite that, only almost – that was reserved for God, who was their God. Although Menshikov – not a god but its nearest equivalent on earth for them – deserved the reverence. At Shelon, thousands had lost their lives – wasted lives, in Menshikov’s opinion. He was a wonder with a sword, but hated using it. He had gained his reputation through words and the respect other people had for him. All his soldiers sensed this and knew it.

We will beat them, General… You’re our commander so I can only see us winning.”

It is in scenes like this that show Menshikov’s humanity and emotional intelligence. His only wish is for his country to survive the Muscovy onslaught and that he has a long and happy life with his wife and children – will this happen? You’ll have to read the book to find out. But let me say this, of all the characters in the novel, Menshikov is by far my favourite.

The book’s now available in all Amazon stores, as well as in Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and a few more for only 99c/77p! If alternate history with a medieval bent is your thing, and Russian history interests you, then I feel this is a perfect read for you.

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Ivan Petrovich Kokoshkin: Russian Psycho Killer!

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Joseph Stalin. Alexander Pichushkin. Ivan the Terrible. Andrei Chikatilo. Lavrenty Beria. Darya Saltykova. These are names in Russian history synonymous with depravity and death. For causing countless acts of inhumanity and suffering on their own people. Some for their own, twisted fantasies; others for a political ideal. Two of these, Stalin and Beria, are responsible through their orders for the deaths of millions. Ivan the Terrible, due to the smaller Russian population in the 16th century, multiple thousands probably. The remaining people’s body count – though all below 100 – have the infamous reputation of killing people with their own hands.

 

 

Fancy a game of Chess? The serial killer Alexander Pichushkin.

 

So which is worse, killing millions but getting somebody else to do it for you, or ending the lives of far less yet having the ultimate responsibility for it? Who’s to know, though I’m sure most people would find it easier to give the order than to take out the order. I know I would.

If you said to your average Russian, or a Russian ashamed of their country’s violent past, they could say Stalin and Beria were Georgians. They would simply pass on the blame: The Georgians would reply to you, however, that the Gori-born Stalin was not a Georgian but an Ossetian, somewhat different. The Ossetians – ashamed of the fact – would reply to you that he was descended from sheep! Joking aside, there’s no excuse for any of it, though I have to say these people seem to fascinate the minds of many of us in popular culture. Why have so many countless books been written about them? Films been shot? Plays staged? I know why: It’s our fascination with them. They bring something to the table that none of us can really understand. It’s little wonder Hannibal Lecter is one of literature and Hollywood’s most iconic figures. But let’s forget fava beans and a nice glass of Chianti… There’s a new man in town, Ivan Kokoshkin!

Ivan Petrovich Kokoshkin is a minor character in my new book, Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel, which you can purchase here in the US and here in the UK. In the story Kokoshkin is one of Grand Prince Ivan Vasilyevich’s henchman. Kokoshkin has only one chapter in the limelight, where he executes General Malenkov for retreating from battle against the Grand Duke’s orders, but it’s my favourite part of the novel. In it we see how much fun he gets out of torturing the unfortuante soldier with a device he calls the Portioncutter. The contraption – all of his own design – is somewhat like an early guillotine with blades that cut off parts of the body. At the beginning of the chapter, the Grand Duke asks Kokoshkin what it does:

“…So, this torture, what is it?” the Grand Duke asked, turning to Kokoshkin.

Kokoshkin smiled hideously. He was a small man with a crooked back, not quite a hunchback but bordering on one nonetheless. His black, beady eyes expressed no humanity, and when he looked at you, you knew it was the Devil in a shapka.

It’s my best yet, Your Majesty,” he responded enthusiastically.

Kokoshkin took the Grand Duke to another chamber next to where Malenkov was hanging. It was lighter there, as candles were flickering all around. In the centre lay the ‘device’. The contraption, a work of art in itself, took up nearly the whole chamber.

What is it?” the Grand Duke asked.

I call it the Portioncutter, Your Majesty.”

What does it do?”

It cuts people up to perfection in a vertical fashion – from the fingers all the way in.”

The Grand Duke studied the machine for a few minutes, moving around it purposefully, touching every part: the thin blades hanging down from the top, the wooden structure and the rope bindings.

Does it work?”

Of course, Your Majesty.”

How do you know – did you try it out on someone already?”

Yes, Your Majesty,” Kokoshkin began, almost squealing now like a wild animal, “on a few little children – last week it was… Oh, yes, does it work… I was surprised myself… It was like, well, ha ha ha, I can’t describe the artistry to you… Can we start, Your Majesty, can we start!?…

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Above Malyuta Skuratov sneaking up to kill yet another innocent victim.

Ivan Kokoshkin is based on another man of Russian history, Malyuta Skuratov, henchman to Ivan IV, otherwise known as Ivan the Terrible. Although one can never know, the great Russian historian Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826) wrote of him in his 12-volume History of the Russian State that compared to Skuratov, Ivan the Terrible was like Mickey Mouse (no, he didn’t say that really, but I’m sure he would have if Disney had been around then). Skuratov was leader of the Oprichnina, Ivan the Terrible’s secret police. By all accounts he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, particularly in Novgorod in 1571, exactly a century after the events in my book in that city. If you’re interested in this character and the events surrounding his life, you should watch the Russian film Tsar here directed by Pavel Lungin. The movie’s set between 1566 and 1569 during the Oprichnina and Livonian War, and it makes for terrific viewing.

99c/77p Sale!

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For one week only, starting NOW, all my novels and novellas on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk will be for 99c – yes, that’s 99c. If you’d like to get a bargain, you can buy them here at Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/James-Dargan/e/B001KE95SI and at Amazon.co.uk here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/James-Dargan/e/B001KE95SI. Remember, my books at the Apple iBookstore, Kobo and Barnes and Noble remain the same price.

Here’s a list of the change in price for my ebooks:

Mister Blue Sky (novel) usual price $4.99, sale price 99c.

Master Sisyphus and the Saveloy Men (novel) usual price $4.99, sale price 99c.

Transatlantic, The Ballad of Thomas Fox (novel) usual price $3.99, sale price 99c.

Spaghetti Junction, A Napoleon Clancy Book, Volume 1 (novella) price is usually 99c usually, remains the same.

Cuyahoga Blues, A Napoleon Clancy Book, Volume 2 (novella) usual price $2.99, sale price 99c.

Out of the Cage (short novella) usual price $1.99, sale price 99c.

All my short stories stay at 99c.

If you purchase any of my ebooks, please write an honest review if you have the time and will – i’ll greatly appreciate it.

 

New Book Release!

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The second volume of my crime fiction/black comedy from a planned six Napoleon Clancy books, Cuyahoga Blues, is now available for $2.99 here or for £1.85 here and at all other Amazon stores worldwide, as well as soon in the B&N Nook store here also for $2.99 To celebrate the new release, I am giving the first volume, Spaghetti Junction, away for FREE in Apple here and Kobo here though in all Amazon and B&N Nook stores the price will remain at 99c/77p until they price match it. However, the FREE ‘price’ may still take a few days to show up in the Kobo store, unfortunately.

All reviews, however good or bad, will be greatly appreciated.

Happy reading!