The Romanov Cross
digital arc provided by Random House via NetGalley
Description from NetGalley:
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.
Army epidemiologist Frank Slater is facing a court-martial, but after his punishment is mysteriously lifted, Slater is offered a job no one else wants—to travel to a small island off the coast of Alaska and investigate a potentially lethal phenomenon: The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony that was wiped out by the dreaded Spanish flu of 1918. Frank must determine if the thawed remains still carry the deadly virus in their frozen flesh and, if so, ensure that it doesn’t come back to life.
Frank and his handpicked team arrive by helicopter, loaded down with high-tech tools, prepared to exhume history. The colony, it transpires, was once settled by a sect devoted to the mad Russian monk Rasputin, but there is even more hiding in the past than Frank’s team is aware of. Any hope of success hinges on their willingness to accept the fact that even their cutting-edge science has its limits—and that the ancient wisdom of the Inuit people who once inhabited this eerie land is as essential as any serum. By the time Frank discovers that his mission has been compromised—crashed by a gang of reckless treasure hunters—he will be in a brutal race against time. With a young, strong-willed Inuit woman by his side, Frank must put a deadly genie back in the bottle before all of humanity pays the price.
The Romanov Cross is at once an alternate take on one of history’s most profound mysteries, a love story as unlikely as it is inevitable, and a thriller of heart-stopping, supernatural suspense. With his signature blend of fascinating history and fantastic imagination, critically acclaimed author Robert Masello has once again crafted a terrifying story of past events coming back to haunt the present day . . . and of dark deeds aching to be unearthed.
Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, a television writer, and the author of many other books, most recently the supernatural thrillers Vigil (which appeared on the USA Today bestseller list) and Bestiary. His articles and essays have appeared often in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, People, and Parade,and his nonfiction book, Robert’s Rules of Writing, has become a staple in many college classrooms. His produced television credits include such popular shows as Charmed, Sliders, and Early Edition. A longstanding member of the Writers Guild of America, he lives in Santa Monica, California.
Epidemiologist Frank Slater gets himself in trouble with his military superiors because he makes an ethical decision that goes against orders. Amazingly, the court-martial awaiting him disappears and he has a chance to redeem himself when a different kind of crisis arises that needs his expertise. There is an isolated island in Alaska where the permafrost is melting and exposing the graveyard of a small colony of Russians that had died there in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Slater must secure the site and test to see if the virus is still viable before anyone is exposed.
Unfortunately for Slater, Port Orlov is a very small town and news travels fast. Before he has even had a chance to set up his camp on the island and start work, there is already a rogue element there ready to cause trouble. The three locals who are intent on finding treasure in the graveyard have no idea what they are getting into. Their actions would almost be a comedy of errors if it weren't so dangerous and in the end so tragic and ridiculously bungled. Everything goes wrong from the start, but that doesn't stop Harley Vane, the would-be leader of the gang, from trying to attain his goal.
The two separate groups, the scientists and the treasure hunters, are mostly unaware of each other for a good deal of the time, which makes for entertaining reading as they maneuver around each other pursuing their individual goals.
The saying "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" pretty much applies to Slater's mission in Alaska. The one positive thing about his adventure, is that he meets Nika, the mayor of Port Orlov. Nika is a great character. She is smart, independent, and brings out the story of the Alaskan natives. I really enjoyed reading her story and would be interested in reading more about this character.
There is a parallel storyline that details the last days of the Romanovs and the fate of young Anastasia. This alternate history is quite entertaining though tragic and it is a very inventive way to explain how the Spanish flu could have reached such an isolated place as Alaska. I loved that the author found a way to combine two very fascinating historical topics into one novel. Both are fun to read about on their own, but combine them, and you have twice the adventure, tragedy and trouble.
I think anyone who enjoys history or historical fiction, or in interested in the House of Romanov, epidemics and Alaska would enjoy this fast-paced, exciting novel.