In this dense, captivating novel of modern-day Russia by Starling (Messiah ; Storm ), stunningly beautiful American Alice Liddell arrives in Moscow in 1991 as the city lurches into a changed world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She's an International Monetary Fund adviser whose job is to privatize Moscow's state-run industries, the first of which will be the legendary Red October vodka distillery. Red October is run by Lev, who is seven feet tall, built like a professional weight lifter and covered with tattoos. The charismatic Lev is not only head of Moscow's largest gang, the 21st Century Association, he is also a parliamentary deputy. Alice and Lev engage in contentious negotiations over who will control the factory, and in no time at all romantic sparks fly. Starling fuels his many story lines—one involving a gang of brutal Chechens; another featuring Juku Irk, Russia's only honest policeman—with an abundance, some might think an overabundance, of facts about life in Russia. While most books would founder under the weight of such extensive research, this great mass of detail is so fascinating that delighted readers will gulp it down like the novel's free-flowing, ubiquitous vodka. Agent, Caradoc King at A.P. Watt (U.K.). (Feb. 1)
Forecast: Booksellers can recommend this to Martin Cruz Smith readers, who will love it once they get past the fact that Smith's detective, Renko, works an entirely different set of streets.