Solovetsky occupies the island site of a former monastery in the White Sea. Here, hundreds of miles from civilization, and with a skeleton crew of secret-policemen in charge, some prisoners are consigned to all kinds of forced labor and others sit at comfortable desks in administrative or cultural positions.
With the brutal winter fast approaching, Tolya Bogomolov, a young mathematician serving a three-year sentence, hopes an acquaintance he's been cultivating will lead to a less brutal work assignment, maybe even a little more bread in his ration. Knowing Gennady Antonov holds a privileged position restoring the monks' seized collection of icons ought to improve Tolya’s odds of reassignment. But when Antonov's body is discovered floating frozen in the bay, their connection turns dangerous. At first the authorities question Tolya, but then he’s mystified when they assign him to assist the elderly detective investigating the case—but better to find the real killer than have the murder pinned on him. Digging into Antonov's secrets turns up strange expropriations of the museum's icons, rumors of an escape conspiracy among White Army officers, and an illicit affair with a female prisoner who won't tell all she knows. To avoid becoming the murderer's next victim, Tolya must defy Solovetsky's unforgiving regime and make ruthless use of his fellow prisoners. Putting his story to paper at last means reckoning the true cost of his survival.
About the Author
James L. May holds an MFA from Florida International University, along with a BA in English from Cornell. He grew up in New Jersey, lived in New Orleans, and now resides in New York City. His short fiction has appeared in Tigertail, and he reviews fiction for The Florida Book Review, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, and the New Orleans Review.
"[A] richly evocative first novel... gripping... this thriller deserves high marks for the captivating tone of the writing and attention to historical detail about a prison that served as a key link in the gulag chain." — Publishers Weekly
"May’s writing seamlessly integrates his detailed research into this experimental prison camp with the intrigues of criminals intent on looting religious treasures. He has made this debut novel a masterful historical detektiv tale." — Library Journal
"By turns clever and revealing... a fine debut. A brainy novel that presents a different spin on the prison-camp novel."
— Kirkus Reviews
"Historical, atmospheric (in a frigid sort of way) and exceptionally well-written, The Body Outside the Kremlin is a first-rate debut." — Bookpage
"A remarkable debut novel that brings to life one of the worst periods of soviet history... The Body Outside the Kremlin... will not disappoint enthusiasts of A. D. Miller’s Snowdrops and M. C. Smith’s Gorky Park." — The New York Journal of Books
"The first sleeper hit of 2020, a rich, historical thriller with strong echoes of Martin Cruz Smith’s classic Gorky Park... thriller writing of the highest order, a tale as ambitiously conceived as it is stunningly realized... the best prison-set drama since Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island." — The Providence Journal
"Fans of le Carre, Forsyth, and other old-school spy novelists will devour this one and leave fully satisfied." — The Real Book Spy