2000. Nina Vassileva has no desire for martyrdom. But despite the long Russian shadows, corruption, and violent misogyny infesting her ‘new' Ukraine, she dedicates herself to uncaging the better angels of the republic.
It proves a dangerous mission. Cruelly kidnapped into sex slavery in Birmingham, Nina escapes, finding chance sanctuary with MI6, who turn her linguistic skills into an 'asset'. Dropped back into Kyiv at the Canadian embassy as an interpreter and 'Special Cultural Liaison', she flies boldly amongst those who still live on Moscow time.
Sacha Vorontsky, Canadian lawyer of Ukrainian descent, attends an international conference in Kyiv. In Nina's voice and eyes, he quickly senses the zeal and aspirations of the post-Wall generation and falls both for her and her 'cause'.
Two little soldiers fighting the endless aftershocks of Holodomor, the Gulag, and those parasites scurrying to profit from the fresh crosswinds over the Steppes.
Chris McNaught is a Canadian author, former criminal barrister, university lecturer, freelance journalist and artist. A lifetime of competitive swimming and water polo has helped keep his body and general wrath in reasonable proportion. Much travel and an ingrained love of story-telling - thanks to an anglophile mother - have charged his pen.
The Linnet is his third novel, once again sparked by personal experience. His next will be a mystery, 'Dùn Phrìs', set on Scotland's southwest coast.
The Linnet is set is in the shifting cultural and political landscape of Ukraine, into which stumbles a Canadian lawyer, Sacha, in search of his roots and a new life. I found this novel to be a captivating read, made all the more relevant given the current barrage of daily news about Ukraine.
The research undertaken by Chris McNaught about the tumultuous history of Ukraine and Russia is impressive.
The novel portrays much that is shattered and lost, trafficked girls transported from Ukraine to the mean streets of Birmingham, bloated thugs, market greed and medieval grudges. The atmosphere is tense, unpredictable and awash in corruption.
This novel follows Sacha, as he attends an international tobacco control conference in Kyiv, pleased to be rid of “looming court dates, client threats and law society audits. There he meets Nina.
Nina is a really compelling character, at once “worn and apprehensive and willing her soul out of the window” of a train. But, through her personal resilience and strength, she has survived savage treatment in Birmingham where she was forced to work as a prostitute. She has emerged a steely but hopeful heroine, whose single-minded goal is to fight for her country, like a modern Joan of Arc. She is offered protection and work by MI-6 and is placed at the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv as a Cultural Liaison Officer and is assigned to be the interpreter for Sacha during his time at the conference.
Sacha falls hard both for Nina, and for her cause and the novel follows their adventures across the Steppes, from Kyiv to Odessa, accompanied by picnics, champagne and caviar. Their escapades are certainly much more dangerous and violent than Sacha bargained for.
The Linnet is a wonderful book. It is intensely visual and could be easily adapted into a screenplay for an equally exciting film.