December by James Steel is a debut novel and ventures bravely to explore what Britain might do in a scenario where Russia does what it always threatens to do, turn off gas supply to dissenting nations. This story sees the UK faced with heavy snows in a cold biting winter, coping with a crippling fuel shortage.
The new Russian president has brought this crisis about as he takes on the West, even as he runs his own country with an iron fist. The only option for the Brits is to clandestinely engineer a coup of sorts in cahoots with a Russian oil oligarch, and then prop up an ex-Russian football captain, Roman Raskolnikov in the seat as the people’s choice. The problem is that they need to first spring him out of the gulag he has been sent to for having spoken his mind. He has to be extracted from there and conveyed to a Moscow TV station from where he can do his grand revolutionary broadcast to the nation.
A concise mercenary operation is planned and put in motion, with expendable experts including an ex-Household Cavalry officer, hoping to pull off and extremely daring mission against absolutely impossible odds. This is a quick-paced thriller with its tense moments, its tough men. There is an unwarranted and superfluous love triangle sub-plot, which adds nothing to the story, and need not have been in the book at all.
There is some plotting of the implausible kind. The final climax in the Kremlin just feels like a step too far, especially after all the seemingly believable action that has preceded it. The audacious assault on the seat of Russian government is again far-fetched as are the scenes in Buckingham Palace, which reveal a small truth -- an American thriller writer may not have first hand understanding of Britain, the British establishment or the Royal Family.
The redeeming factor here are the action sequences, when the armed to the teeth mercenary team lands up in Russia, and the book then becomes hard to put down. Relentless and totally gripping.
By James Steel