Brent Ghelfi - Volk’s Game
This debut novel from former US Court of Appeals clerk Brent Ghelfi introduces us to Alexei Volkovoy. ‘Volk’ (‘wolf’), a one-time sniper for the Russian Army in Chechnya, is now an unscrupulous gangster commissioned to steal a long-lost Da Vinci painting from St Petersburg’s Heritage Museum by his shadowy, psychotic boss, ‘The General’. While sparely written and packed with incident, Ghelfi’s debut is ultimately hamstrung by its failure to diverge from a rigid formula. The protagonist embodies every thriller cliché of the anti-hero who loves his old mum.
For all his brutality we’re meant to identify with Volk because of his scruples about child prostitution and sympathies for Russia’s forgotten victims, particularly army veterans and the elderly. While the flinty narrative is delivered at breakneck speed, transporting us around an embarrassment of locations (Prague and New York feature alongside St Petersburg, Moscow and Chechnya), the endless empty scenes of graphic violence conceal a lack of original ideas.