The Red Moth is the fourth in Sam Eastland’s imaginative and singular Inspector Pekkala series featuring the uncanny Pekkala who began as the Tsar’s “Emerald Eye” and is now Stalin’s chief investigator, holder of the “Shadow Pass” that allows him access to anyone and everywhere so long as he remains in Stalin’s favor. After years in the Gulag, he does his best to do his job for Stalin while remaining his own man.

In this installment of the series, a plane is shot down with a mysterious cargo, a painting that doesn’t seem worthy of the lives it cost. Stalin tells Pekkala to figure it out and sure enough, he discovers a hidden meaning, one that suggests Hitler’s advancing army might be trying to rob the Soviet Union of one of its most valuable and irreplaceable treasures, the Amber Room that readers may remember from earlier books. Foiling their plans would require going behind the front line, passing among the Germans.

Meanwhile, back in Moscow his assistant Kirov is working to solve the murder of a man who was supposed to go with them, an old friend from Pekkala’s academy days.

I enjoyed The Red Moth as much as I hoped I would. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the three books that precede it, “The Eye of the Tsar,” “Shadow Pass,” and “Archive 17.” Every book gives us a little more information from Pekkala’s past.

In this book, the mystery is less complex, but the jeopardy is more immediate. The Germans are advancing with alarming speed and the Soviet Army in retreat is absolute in its determination to leave them nothing. I liked that Kirov came a bit out of Pekkala’s shadow, working his own case, maybe finding romance. The ending of this book leaves us with a new mystery, one that makes me eager to read the next as soon as I can.

I like how Eastland creates this powerful sense of time and place. When it’s cold and wet and miserable, you can almost feel it in your bones. The menace of working for a tyrant like Stalin and living in a society where everyone may be ready to inform on you for something, where you never know how your secrets and your past can be used against you–the arbitrary and ever-present danger is almost suffocating and he makes it all real.

I received an Advance Reading Copy of The Red Moth from the publisher through a LibraryThing drawing.