Excerpt from Archangel by Robert Harris, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Archangel

By Robert Harris

Archangel
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  • Hardcover: Dec 1998,
    373 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2000,
    415 pages.

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To choose one's victims, to prepare one's plans minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed . . . there is nothing sweeter in the world.
--J. V. Stalin, in conversation with Kamenev and Dzerzhinsky


Olga Komarova of the Russian Archive Service, Rosarkhiv, wielding a collapsible pink umbrella, prodded and shooed her distinguished charges across the Ukraina's lobby toward the revolving door. It was an old door, of heavy wood and glass, too narrow to cope with more than one body at a time, so the scholars formed a line in the dim light, like parachutists over a target zone, and as they passed her, Olga touched each one lightly on the shoulder with her umbrella, counting them off one by one as they were propelled into the freezing Moscow air.

Franklin Adelman of Yale went first, as befitted his age and status, then Moldenhauer of the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, with his absurd double doctorate--Dr. Dr. Karl-bloody-Moldenhauer--then the neo-Marxists, Enrico Banfi of Milan and Eric Chambers of the LSE, then the great cold warrior Phil Duberstein, of NYU, then Ivo Godelier of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, followed by glum Dave Richards of St. Antony's, Oxford--another Sovietologist whose world was rubble--then Velma Byrd of the U.S. National Archive, then Alastair Findlay of Edinburgh's Department of War Studies, who still thought the sun shone out of Comrade Stalin's ass, then Arthur Saunders of Stanford, and finally--the man whose lateness had kept them waiting in the lobby for an extra five minutes--Dr. C.R.A. Kelso, commonly known as Fluke.

The door banged hard against his heels. Outside, the weather had worsened. It was trying to snow. Tiny flakes, as hard as grit, came whipping across the wide gray concourse and spattered his face and hair. At the bottom of the flight of steps, shuddering in a cloud of its own white fumes, was a dilapidated bus, waiting to take them to the symposium. Kelso stopped to light a cigarette.

"Jesus, Fluke," called Adelman, cheerfully. "You look just awful."
Kelso raised a fragile hand in acknowledgment. He could see a huddle of taxi drivers in quilted jackets stamping their feet against the cold. Workmen were struggling to lift a roll of tin off the back of a truck. One Korean businessman in a fur hat was photographing a group of twenty others, similarly dressed. But of Papu Rapava, no sign.
"Dr. Kelso, please, we are waiting again." The umbrella wagged at him in reproof. He transferred the cigarette to the corner of his mouth, hitched his bag up onto his shoulder, and moved toward the bus.

"A battered Byron" was how one Sunday newspaper had described him when he had resigned his Oxford lectureship and moved to New York, and the description wasn't a bad one--curly black hair too long and thick for neatness, a moist, expressive mouth, pale cheeks, and the glow of a certain reputation--if Byron hadn't died on Missolonghi but had spent the next ten years drinking whiskey, smoking, staying indoors, and resolutely avoiding all exercise, he too might have come to look a little like Fluke Kelso.

He was wearing what he always wore: a faded dark blue shirt of heavy cotton with the top button undone; a loosely knotted and vaguely stained dark tie; a black corduroy suit with a black leather belt, over which his stomach bulged slightly; red cotton handkerchief in his breast pocket; scuffed boots of brown suede; an old blue raincoat. This was Kelso's uniform, unvaried for twenty years.

"Boy," Rapava had called him, and the word was both absurd for a middle-aged man and yet oddly accurate. Boy.

The heater was going full blast. Nobody was saying much. He sat on his own near the back of the bus and rubbed at the wet glass as they jolted up the ramp to join the traffic on the bridge. Across the aisle, Saunders made an ostentatious display of batting Kelso's smoke away. Beneath them, in the filthy waters of the Moskva, a dredger with a crane mounted on its aft deck beat sluggishly upstream.

Excerpted from Archangel by Robert Harris. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing.

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