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Russian Roulette by A. Horowitz

Horowitz, Anthony. Russian Roulette. London, UK:  Walker Books, 2013.  Print.

Anthony Horowitz is well known to discerning television audiences for his authorship of the WWII period drama, Foyle’s War.  To adolescent readers he is known for the Diamond Brothers series, the Power of Five series and the better-known Alex Rider series.  Alex Rider is an English teenager who is drafted by MI6 and becomes a secret agent.  He goes to exotic places and routinely saves the free world.  The bad guys in these stories are Scorpia, a ruthless international organization with an elite training school where they teach operatives to be expert killers.  Very early in the Alex Rider series we meet one of their assassins, Yassen Gregorovich, who is Alex’s nemesis and is eventually ordered to kill him. Russian Roulette is a departure from the nine earlier Alex Rider books in that this is Yassen Gregorvich’s biography.  To emphasize the Russian-ness or “otherness” of this book in the series, all of the chapter headings are written in Cyrillic script first.

Horowitz is every bit as detailed and historically and technically accurate in the development of this character’s back story as he is with the Alex Rider stories and Foyle’s War.  For example:

The mechanic knew nothing about helicopters.  Even I could have told him that a Bell helicopter doesn’t have a joystick.  It has a cyclic control which transmits instructions to the rotor blades.  And it’s not in front of you.  It’s to one side.  Zelin had lied about the malfunction, just as he had lied about the usual mechanic, Borodin, being sick.

The story is sometimes poignant, often exciting, and frequently death-defying.  The reader does come to care about Yassen Gregorovich, but not too much.  Series readers have, after all, known him as the antagonist for nine books.  Because Russian Roulette is a prequel, it gives Horowitz the opportunity to answer some of the unanswered questions from the other books in the series.  For example, what, exactly, was the relationship between Gregorovich and Alex’s parents and uncle? 

This is a “must read” for anyone who has enjoyed the Alex Rider series.  Highly recommended for junior high and high school libraries and public libraries everywhere. 

Highly recommended:  4 stars out of 4
Reviewer:  Sandy Campbell

Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.