REVIEW: Black Wolf by GD Abson (Natalya Ivanova #2)

Series: Natalya Ivanova

Book Number: 2

Read this book for: crime procedural, Russian mystery, political thriller, police corruption, crime thriller, contemporary mystery

Quick Review: Polished, well-executed, and intense, BLACK WOLF is a must read for those who are interested in a believable political angle to their procedural thrillers.


A young woman is found dead on the outskirts of St Petersburg on a freezing January morning. There are no signs of injury, and heavy snowfall has buried all trace of an attacker.

Captain Natalya Ivanova’s investigation quickly links the victim to the Decembrists, an anti-Putin dissident group whose acts of civil disobedience have caught the eye of the authorities. And Natalya soon realises she is not the only one interested in the case, as government security services wade in and shut down her investigation almost before it has begun.

Before long, state media are spreading smear stories about the dead woman, and Natalya suspects the authorities have something to hide. When a second rebel activist goes missing, she is forced to go undercover to expose the truth. But the stakes are higher than ever before. Not only could her pursuit of the murderer destroy her career, but her family ties to one of the victims threaten to tear her personal life apart.

BLACK WOLF is the second novel in this crime procedural series following female detective Captain Natalya Ivanova in contemporary Russia as she fights against corruption and injustice in her department to try to bring justice to the victims and families that she works with.

This novel picks up where the first book in the series, MOTHERLAND, leaves off. It does not strictly have to be read in order — you will not necessarily miss anything, but you will spoil some revelations about the relationships between Ivanova and certain major supporting characters that happen in the first book. If you enjoy this type of novel, however, you should definitely read the first book; they are very similar in tone and type, although BLACK WOLF feels a little more polished, as Abson settles into his rhythm with these characters and world.

Abson crafts another interesting, intricate plot for this novel, following a similar feel to the last book. There are many threads that seem not to entirely fit together until the final resolution, which is well constructed and fairly believable. This is more a procedural thriller than a whodunnit, though — it is not the type of novel that will let you guess at the solution along with the characters. However, you will keep turning the pages to find out what happens nexts, as Ivanova tends to engage in investigations that put her in danger.

Part of that danger comes from the setting, and much of this book is absorbed in the fight between Ivanova, her departmental superiors, and other branches of the police and militia. It makes the book feel very authentically Russian, as you can see the power struggles between departments and the easy corruption that flows through, as well as the ruthless way that cases are handled. Against this setting, the thriller elements are all the more believable, and the involvement of a police officer trying to find justice for members of an activist group is even more tense. It’s a brilliant choice, and the characters, particularly those who are returning from the last novel, fit right into it. They also are beginning to feel familiar to readers of the first novel, and it makes this novel flow easily, with the focus on the plot.

And this really is about the underlying story — as a thriller in all but name, it’s beautifully paced; fast but not breakneck, picking up speed organically as it goes. It’s wonderfully executed, tailor-made to keep you turning pages. This is a book that you will devour in just a few sittings.

If you are a fan of police procedurals, investigative thrillers, or thrillers with a deeply political background, BLACK WOLF is a novel you should definitely pick up this summer. It will punch you back into the heart of winter in Russia, and you’ll love every minute there!

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