The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello
I hesitate to call this book a "thriller", because the first 275 pages were anything but thrilling. They were extremely slow-paced, even dull. At times, they even threatened to put me to sleep. It literally took half the book to "set-up" for the thrill ride. After page 300, it does become much faster-paced and action-packed, and as such is a much easier read.
I have difficulty with authors who seem to want to prove how much research they've done by putting every piece of it in their book, regardless of how much it slows down the pacing. There weren't any huge info-dumps, but rather a lot of information spread out through the entire first half. As a reader expecting a quick, fun, light read, it took some effort to push through this.
I can't fault the plot in any real way. It was a good plot. The modern-day characters were more or less typical of what you'd expect from this genre, and mostly likeable. The plainly idiotic ones drove me up the wall, ruining everything for everyone just by being stupid and selfish. People like that are a pet peeve of mine. I enjoyed the historical sections, about the Romanovs during the revolution, from Anastasia's perspective. I know absolutely nothing about Rasputin (maybe less than nothing, since I'm familiar with the lyrics of that 80's song) or the Romanovs. But I liked Anastasia and her relationship with Sergei. I thought it was a sweet romance.
I had a rather opposite feeling about the romance that developed between Frank and Nika. It seemed so pat, almost forced. These are both two extremely practical, rational, job-focused individuals, so it seemed way out of character for both of them to go from "he/she's attractive and has admirable qualities" to "I'm totally in lurve!" in a matter of days. Days filled with seriously distracting and important work. I really dislike romances that don't advance the plot and are just stuck in a book because the genre seems to demand it. I had a similar issue with the romance in another of Masello's books, Blood and Ice.
The ending of this book was a little clumsy, a little cheesy, but mostly satisfactory. I didn't like how the (fire) gaff made Frank look even more incompetent to the other characters in authority. Even though none of what went wrong was his fault, he ends up looking like a bumbling fool who can't do anything right in the eyes of all but his team. And he just accepts that reputation without complaint, as if he deserves it. I'd have been able to keep my respect for him if he'd stood up for himself at least a little. Instead he's all "who cares if my career is over, I'm IN LOVE!!"
If you can get through the first half of this book without resentment, you'll probably enjoy the second half. There is nothing inherently bad about the plot development or writing style (except I noticed a 'then' in place of a 'than' in one passage). I guess I just keep wanting Masello's books to be a little bit more engrossing than they turn out to be. After reading three of them, I think I will be looking elsewhere when I feel like a thriller.