|Archive 17 is the third novel by Sam Eastland featuring Inspector Pekkala. Pekkala had served Tsar Nicholas II in many capacities and had emerged with the much vaunted badge "The Emerald Eye," which symbolically assured all that Pekkala's authority was absolute. In his closing days, Tsar Nicholas had chosen the Kolchaks, (both Colonel and Admiral) to spirit Russia's gold to a hiding place. Pekkala had been involved in this attempt and for his efforts had been among those imprisoned in the Siberian Gulag at a camp known as Borodok.
This novel opens on the brink of World War II as Stalin is scrambling for assets. A prisoner at Borodok had told the commandant there that he would exchange his knowledge of the whereabouts of Colonel Kolchak for his freedom. Very soon thereafter, this prisoner Ryabov is murdered. Since Stalin and Pekkala both believed the Colonel was dead, Stalin grasps at this straw in the hope that he can recover the gold that had never been found.
To investigate this, Stalin directs Pekkala to return to this prison camp that he had once survived - to investigate this death, to infiltrate the gang of the surviving Tsarists and to find Kolchak and the gold. The commandant is the only person at the labor camp who knows Pekkala's mission, but Stalin has sent another to guard Pekkala, with the commandant providing the access to Moscow authorities.
If you have read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, the life portrayed in this labor camp will come as no surprise. It is clear that Eastland has carefully researched the background of the times and the personalities of Stalin and others of authority as he imbues Pekkala with a relentlessness and methodical approach that would have clearly been necessary to cope.
Upon the second viewing of the remains of Ryabov, Pekkala realizes he had known this man during the flight with the gold. He quickly contacts his friend and co worker Major Kirov to gather all he can about Ryabov from files, hoping this approach will give the investigation some direction. With great surprise he learns the file has but a single page and Pekkala realizes the deceased was there under an alias. Directing Kirov to the secret Archive 17 which represented the private notes of the Tsar, Kirov then discovers the true identity of the deceased.
The novel now picks up speed as that discovery, when made known to Stalin, sets in motion other events which begin to highlight the many layers of intrigue and the complexity of the plot. The protagonist Pekkla is not as well developed as he could be, no doubt because of the work done on that in the two prior novels. The in depth development of the minor characters add a great deal to the enjoyment of the story, also serving to showcase Eastland's prodigious talent. Combining that with his exhaustive research should guarantee Eastland a continued position of prominence in this genre.