The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello

Title: The Romanov Cross
Author: Robert Masello (twitterwebsite)
Pub. Date: March 5, 2013
Source: Publisher (Thank you, Bantam!!)
Summary: Nearly one hundred years ago, a desperate young woman crawled ashore on a desolate arctic island, carrying a terrible secret and a mysterious, emerald-encrusted cross. A century later, acts of man, nature, and history converge on that same forbidding shore with a power sufficient to shatter civilization as we know it.
Genre: Thriller
Rating:

If you’re a long-time follower of The Pretty Good Gatsby, you know I basically adore the Romanov family. Tsarist Russia holds a special place in my heart and the end of the Romanov dynasty is both fascinating and heartbreaking. For decades rumors surrounded the survival of one of the royal children – Anastasia in particular – and it was only a few years ago that the rumors were finally laid to rest when, in the summer of 2007, the final two skeletons were discovered. Despite evidence confirming the deaths of the entire family, we remain a society full of What Ifs. One of my favorite mystery/thriller ‘sub-genres’ if you will, is the survival of one of the children (and name me a little girl who watched Anastasia and didn’t fantasize about being a long-lost princess). Naturally, when I came across The Romanov Cross, I zeroed in on it and needed it in my life.

“If any relation to your family takes my life, then woe to the dynasty. The Russian people will rise against you with murder in their hearts.”

Grigori Rasputin knows his time is coming to an end. He utters a prophetic message to the Grand Duchess Anastasia and shortly after, he is murdered. The Imperial Family’s days are numbered and the political climate in Russia is chaotic. Numerous factions are vying for control and once Nicholas II abdicates, the family is carted around the country before a swift execution and careless burial – if it can be called that – in a large grave in a forest.

In the present day, Dr. Frank Slater’s days are also numbered. After recklessly punching a superior officer, he’s stripped of his Major rank and declared an average citizen. It’s only because he’s among the best in his field (Epidemiology – the study of diseases and how they’re distributed) that he’s kept on and soon finds himself taken from the hot desserts of Afghanistan to a frozen tundra in Alaska. St. Peter’s Island, home to a long-forgotten Russian colony and a pack of wolves, is suddenly one of the most dangerous places on the planet. When the loose soil released a coffin into the sea, it was discovered Spanish Flu had claimed the body. Worried that the virus might still be alive and well – albeit in a frozen state – Slater quickly arranges a team and, with the utmost secrecy, heads to the tiny island.

Unfortunately for Slater, Port Orlov, the closest town, is home to Harley Vane, disgraced fisherman and petty burglar. It was one of the crab pods on his boat that hauled in the coffin and when Harley peeked inside, he saw a nice prize: a silver cross with giant emeralds. The rocky shoreline of St. Peter’s Island sunk the boat and as the sole-survivor, Harley found himself an instant celebrity. The citizens of Port Orlov, however, know the reputation of the Vane brothers and aren’t quite buying Harley’s story.

The Romanov Cross was a chunkster of a novel. The past few books I’ve read have been quick, easy novels barely over 300 pages. This one clocks in at 500. Despite it’s length, the book chugged along and I got through it without any difficulty. Three main storylines: the Romanovs imprisonment, Slater and his team, and Harley Vane, all converge on the small coastal town of Port Orlov, Alaska. The community is rich with history and many of the citizens are descended from the original Inuit tribe who called the land home. Those same Inuits were said to be among the only survivors of the Spanish Flu, a deadly 1918 pandemic that claimed the lives of an estimated 100 million people. A few of the townsfolk have suddenly developed coughs and it’s looking like history will be put to the test once more.

While I enjoyed this novel, there were a few things that bothered me: for a novel about the Romanovs, their chapters were few and far between. I had expected alternating chapters, or at the very least, every few chapters. Sadly, there were only a handful of Romanov scenes. Also, I was a bit confused. Was this supposed to have supernatural elements? Granted, you can’t mention Rasputin without entertaining the notion that he had otherworldly powers, but Anastasia is alive and well on this island. Anastasia was born in 1901. She’s well over 100 in the book and living on a desolate island in the harsh Alaskan wilderness. It was mentioned in a chapter that Rasputin said she was unlike the others and gave her a cross to protect her. Was it enchanted or somehow able to prolong her life? That part confused me, as well as the wolves (the souls of the other Russians who had died on the island) and the multiple appearances of ghosts. If The Romanov Cross was intended to be a supernatural or paranormal novel, okay. If not, I’m left scratching my head.

This book has a huge cast of characters and, surprisingly, they’re all very well developed! It always worries me when books have such a large amount of characters, but The Romanov Cross put my fears to rest. Each character – whether they were a central figure or minor townsfolk – had a distinct personality and individual traits and strengths. I really enjoyed that.

The ending definitely seemed rushed and a bit too tidy. However, The Romanov Cross was still an entertaining read and definitely one to spread out over a relaxing weekend.