Wednesday 30 August 2023

Review by Laurie Cusack of "Kyiv Trance" by Gus Gresham

Beautifully researched − Kyiv Trance is a stone-cold classic − Brilliant in its execution − Gresham's crime thriller is truly mesmerizing  −  Utterly unputdownable − Outstanding!

Blah, blah, blah … How many times have you read over-hyped blurb like this? Too many, I know, but this text is the real deal … honest to god, cross my heart and hope to die!

For starters Gresham’s subject matter couldn’t be more topical. Everyone wants to know about Kyiv now – our sympathies go out to Ukraine in all its adversity. Moreover, there is a hunger to be better informed about its people, culture and way of life. I think we all agree there’s no better way to satisfy that hunger than racing through a sizzling page turner!

Gresham’s atmospheric opening, for instance, draws the reader right into the subterranean bowel of Kyiv: "Richard was riding the improbably long escalators again. From deep down behind him, he could still hear accordion music and the husky voice of the old busker in the strains of a Slavic folksong. It wasn’t necessary to understand Ukrainian to know that the song was about tragedy and loss."

Throughout razor-sharp Kyiv Trance you glean an understanding of Ukraine’s unique Orange Revolution, which was bloodless-civil disobedience after the fraudulent elections of 2004/2005. Gresham, skilfully, sprinkles and captures the zeitgeist moments of a nation that was on the cusp of democratic change, during that tumultuous period. 

The impressive juxtaposition of a maniac on the loose, as this political turmoil is  unfolding, reads very well. Alongside this, Gresham’s haunted protagonist Richard Farr battles to make sense of it all after falling head over heels with beautiful Nadya. There is a lot going on within Kyiv Trance but as a reader you are never lost, as the seamless flashbacks and back story are handled deftly.

They also say good writing is about how you handle detail − keeping your ear to the ground is paramount − Kyiv Trance royally delivers on that score: "Bar Zavtra’s music system was playing Ella Fitzgerald. ‘How Deep is the Ocean?’ Her voice had to compete with the shopping-centre Muzak – some soulless atrocity that sounded like a panpipe rendition of Motorhead’s ‘The Ace of Spades.’"

I was reminded of Martin Cruz Smith’s dynamic thriller Gorky Park to some extent as I read Gresham’s text − both plots are set in the east and are meditations on political power whilst examining the social fabric close-up through the lens of the crime thriller genre. Both highlight how systems work and how people strive and survive within those systems. Kyiv Trance is a blast and brilliantly observed.

About the reviewer
Laurie Cusack (PhD) studied Creative Writing at Leicester University. He writes from the gut − from the underground − about the underdog. His collection of short stories The Mad Road is out in September. He is now an actor-simulator, writer and community advocate.

You can read more about Kyiv Trance by Gus Gresham, as well as an excerpt from the novel, on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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