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Book Review: Diamonds and Deceit: The Search for the Missing Romanov Dynasty Jewels by Gene Coyle

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Around midnight on the night of July 16-17, 1918, 11 members of the Romanov family of Russia and their servants were taken to the basement of the house where they had been confined since March. They were told to dress, that they were being photographed.

The family and their servants had been prisoners of the new regime in Russia for nearly five months, the result of the Russian Revolution. The Russian Revolution was actually a series of revolutions that led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and which in turn led to the creation of the USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Romanovs did not leave the basement alive. There was a hail of bullets, and the bullets seemed to be bouncing off the doomed family. When the corpses were later stripped and acid poured on them to destroy all evidence, their executioners discovered diamonds sewn into their undergarments. Eighteen pounds of diamonds! The whereabouts of those 18 pounds of diamonds has never been resolved, which is the jumping off point for Diamonds and Deceit, the latest thriller from former CIA field operations officer Gene Coyle.

The story begins as Professor Karl Beck, in his current life a Slavic Language Professor at Indiana University, is listening to a taped reading of a book for his class “The History of Soviet Crime Novels.” He comes across a passage in the recording that doesn’t appear in the novel. This mysterious, disconnected passage triggers his hunt for the diamonds.

Beck’s hunt carries the reader through a series of adventures, including a backstory about a group of mostly former intelligence professionals who’ve formed a clandestine group, and of which Beck is part. The group has taken it upon themselves to do what most governments are afraid to do nowadays, specifically, neutralizing terrorists and those who support them, which is the mission that Beck recently undertook on for them. Beck, the seemingly reclusive professor of Slavic Literature at Indiana University (the author’s real day job), has his cover slowly exposed like the layers of an onion, eventually taking him to the home of the onion dome buildings, Mother Russia. He’s also tracked and followed by those who’ve tumbled to his quest. His eventual exposure and the hunt for the diamonds, of course, are what takes up the majority of slightly more than 200 pages of the book.

There are some spots in the book where the action seems to slow down, but if you have that feeling while you’re reading, it’s because you’re not paying close enough attention. And what an ending! The field is left wide open for at least one more book in this saga.

On the downside, I feel that had the author had a good editor, his book would have been featured in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, and would have had a single-digit ranking on the same newspaper’s Hardcover Fiction category of bestsellers. There are typographical and usage errors, plus I think that rewriting the parts where he relates events in the third person into first person action would draw the reader in deeper, and quicker.

This book has enough plot-twisters, wrinkles and adventures for, again, at least two books. [Take note, publishers.] And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this book gets snapped up by a movie company. It has all the ingredients: A king’s ransom in diamonds, intrigue, danger, plenty of action, an intelligent plot, and even a romantic interest.

Not to be missed, (small) warts and all!

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