Ever since the DaVinci Code came out, and I saw the movie National Treasure, I have been fascinated by stories that blend action/suspense with a strong historical base. The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello takes this even a bit further and actually tells two distinct stories. The first is the story of government epidemiologist Frank Slater, who has been tasked through out his career with doing research in the worst places that the U.S. Government can send him. His current assignment is no different as he is sent to a small, isolated island off the coast of Alaska to research a colony that was completely annihilated by the Spanish flu. I found this story to be an adventure tale of the best kind, complete with treasure hunters, colorful local characters, a bit of local Inuit lore, and a race against an enemy buried for over 100 years in the frozen turf.
The characters in this first story were engaging from Frank Slater and his team, all the way to the treasure hunters and their families. I actually felt quite a bit of empathy for Harley, mostly due to the huge impact his decision to pull up the coffin from the sea had on his life. I wondered if he would have done things differently if he could do a "do over". My favorite characters, though, were the members of Frank Slater's team, especially Frank, Nika, and Professor Kozak.
The first story would have kept me turning pages and gotten high reviews, even if it was presented by itself, but this book had a bonus. That bonus was a second story centered around the end of the Romanov Dynasty, and the age old controversy of whether Anastasia Romanov was killed with her family or escaped. Masello takes this myth and wraps it up in a love story between Ana and a young Bolshevik guard who is give the job of guarding her. Here again, he weaves a wonderful story that could stand on its own perfectly, and is, for the most part, perfectly believable.
Blending two stories, as was done here, can be a hit or a miss, but in the case of this book and with the skill of this author, it is definitely a hit. In addition to enjoying both stories, I really enjoyed the way that Masello was able to weave them together with such smoothness and ease. The only part of the story that I didn't feel was necessary was the supernatural element. It's not that it didn't fit, or that it wasn't well presented. It did not detract from the overall story one bit. I just felt that the two stories were excellent by themselves and that the supernatural element was unnecessary.
I have heard others talk about how the ending was a transparent set up for a sequel. Whether a sequel is written or not, I found the ending suitable prophetic and thought provoking. As such, I felt it was perfectly legitimate.
I am actually a bit surprised that this author has not been on my radar before now since I really enjoy reading books of this type and have read several by Steve Berry and Brad Meltzer, along with everything Dan Brown has written. He is definitely on my radar now, though, and I plan to read the other books that he has written.
A big thanks to Netgalley and Random House for furnishing me with a Unproofed copy of this book to read and review.