By Robert Masello
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The mystery surrounding the Romanovs has long been a popular subject for fiction writers. In recent years, the subject seems to have grown even more prevalent. At least five books that I have read in the last nine months have referenced the family in one way or another, often as a major plot point. In case you are one of the five people on the plante who are not aware of the story of the Romanovs, here is a brief summary.
The House of Romanov was the second and final imperial dynasty to rule over Russia. The family reigned from the 17th century until 1917, when the monarchy was overthrown during the February Revolution and the family was executed. For years, there have been rumors that some members of the Romanov line escaped execution and survived to secretly carry on the lineage.
Masello deftly melds the story of what happens during and after the Revolution with the main story set in the present, providing one possible scenario for how one of the Romanovs could have escaped, and the deadly, unforeseen consequences that followed.
In the present day, a fishing boat off the coast of Alaska salvages a coffin from the icy waters. Inside, they find a man’s body wearing an antique cross embedded with emeralds. The boat crashes on the rocks of St. Peter’s Island. Harley, the captain, survives the wreck and keeps the cross by riding on the coffin lid until he reaches shore.
After being court-martialed, Army epidemiologist Frank Slater discovers that he surprisingly will not be given any jail time, and he soon learns why. He has been assigned a task no one else wants to tackle — he is to travel to St. Peter Island and investigate a potentially lethal situation.
The coffin found by the fishing boat has revealed a dangerous secret: The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony of settlers that was wiped out by the Spanish flu in 1918. Slater’s job is to make sure that the thawed bodies don’t contain the deadly virus, and if they do, to contain the situation.
Masello had me quickly turning the pages to find out: What connection is there between the Romanovs and the settlers? Can Slater finish his job once the site has been contaminated by Harley and his treasure-hunting buddies? Are the mysterious wolves that populate the island natural or something supernatural?
Masello combines historical fiction with modern-day scientific/medical thriller, spiced with a dash of romance and a twist of the supernatural. All these elements could have made a big jumbled mess, but Masello really makes it work. I also loved the juxtaposition of the Romanov story with the present-day tale. It was never distracting or difficult to keep straight.
The Romanov Cross was the first of Masello’s work I had read, but the rest of his works are definitely on my To Be Read list now.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The Romanov Cross a 4.5.