Gold Train by Lada Ray
Gold Train. What images come to mind when you read those words? Do they conjure images of a train filled with gold? That’s what will cross your thoughts when you read the novel Gold Train by Lada Ray. The author paints a vivid image of an early 20th Century locomotive filled with gold reserves from the Czar’s treasury that disappeared without a trace during the 1918 Russian Civil War.
From the very first chapter, Lada weaves vivid descriptions of Russia and Russian culture into a story filled with thrilling suspense. The novel follows the prequel Stepford, U.S.A. and the novella Green Desert, which introduce readers the colorful character of Jade Snow, an international journalist turned stay-at-home mom who’s dedicated to her family but longs to return to the field as a reporter.
In Gold Train, Jade embarks on the adventure of her life traveling to Russia to investigate the Gold Train’s disappearance. The assignment leads her into a tangled web of intrigue in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and New York City that involves the Russian authorities, a pro-monarchist organization with Chechen ties, and the FSB, the Russian intelligence agency formerly known as the KGB. The story is filled with page-turning action that hurtles Jade toward an explosive climax that sheds light on the mystery of the Czar’s missing gold. Buffeted by events often out of her control, Jade uses her intellect and journalistic instinct to navigate her way heroically through life-threatening events.
Jade is a character who, in some ways, represents “everywoman” to whom readers can relate. She has some amazing talents, including a sixth sense that defies logic, and a charming, engaging personality. At the same time, she exhibits some flaws that make her all too human. From her strong bond with friends to her struggle against temptation, Jade is someone many of us see in ourselves. At the same time, she has some unforgettable traits — from her flaming red hair to her deep knowledge of Russian culture — that put her in the annals of fiction literature’s great heroines. I’m looking forward to reading more about Jade in the upcoming Dragon Gate and many sequels to come.
As someone with a keen interest in international affairs, I was happy to read the author’s unique portrayal of Russia, and in particular, Russian intelligence. So many western novels since the days of the Soviet Union have painted Mother Russia and the “Russians” as a nemesis, a stereotype that has continued, albeit muted, since the fall of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Her account is a refreshing look at Russia today and a rare positive portrayal of the Russian authorities. While the truth may be different than her depiction, I give her high marks for originality. For Western audiences, it’s a new take on an old storyline usually reserved for Russia’s former Cold War foes. Her deep appreciation of Russian culture is apparent in her writing and translates well to readers. Lada does an excellent job navigating a subject that can be easily politicized — Russian politics – in a disarming way. Those with an eye for fashion will enjoy the exquisite descriptions of the trappings of European royalty.
I give Gold Train 5 stars overall. The novel includes all the elements of a novice spy-thriller masterpiece, from smart writing to a crisp plot that moves along with action and ties up loose ends, great plot twists, memorable characters, good dialogue, and fabulous descriptions. That said, it doesn’t achieve the threshold of greatness reserved for classic spy thrillers written by John LeCarré, Frederick Forsyth, and others. Perhaps, in time and another book, Jade will rise to the level of a Kay Scarpetta or Kinsey Millhone. I would have liked to see more development of secondary characters such as Jade’s husband Paul and Svetlana, a woman in Moscow who draws Jade into the Gold Train mystery. At times I questioned Jade’s judgment and found myself mumbling that I would not have made the same choices she did. I remembered, however, that she made her choices in character – she is Jade and I am not. I enjoyed the symbolism of the book, including the allusions to her fate, although the mildly paranormal aspect of the story diminished the realism of the book. A simple cat and dog whisperer would have sufficed over telepathy. I found no grammatical errors in the second edition of the book mentioned by an earlier reviewer.
All in all, Gold Train is an excellent read. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for an entertaining thriller featuring a memorable character by someone who’s an up-and-coming novelist. Read the book, and then follow with the other Jade Snow adventures before her next story comes out in 2012. You’ll be thrilled you got to know Jade.
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