The Blood Stiller (The Russian)
by Minerva Taylor

Published: 2013-08-01T00:0
Paperback : 372 pages
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For fans of Steve Berry, Dan Brown, Robert Harris and Kate Mosse's historically accurate thrillers, a riveting page-turner questions if the Romanov dynasty really ended, suggesting the 'one designated by blood' may still be alive.

  Ipatiev House, Ekaterinburg Siberia, July 1918:  On ...

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For fans of Steve Berry, Dan Brown, Robert Harris and Kate Mosse's historically accurate thrillers, a riveting page-turner questions if the Romanov dynasty really ended, suggesting the 'one designated by blood' may still be alive.

  Ipatiev House, Ekaterinburg Siberia, July 1918:  On the eve of his execution, in a desperate attempt to save the Romanov Dynasty, Tsar Nicholas II signs in secret his last Ukase, an irrevocable royal edict, bestowing untold riches and power on his legitimate heir, 'the one designated by blood'.

  New York City, 1970:  Christina Gartner, a young socialite divorcee befriends her new neighbor, Mme. Antonova, an elderly White Russian émigré who escaped the Russian Revolution with her two children. The charming Mme. A. captivates Christina with stories of her escape, but are they the truth?

  The friendship catapults Christina into a cat and mouse game with a ruthless aging Bolshevik on the hunt for the Tsar's long lost and explosive Ukase so he can take control of the Russian government and the country's mining riches.

  It's up to Christina and a NYC cop to find the Ukase and the secrets of the Blood Stiller, before the sinister émigré conspiracy in contemporary New York does.

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In marked contrast to the cluttered room, the breakfast table was shielded on one side by the grand silver samovar which frequently gave off steam, hissing like an offended duchess. At the tables opposite end, two sets of battered mahogany shelves held old sepia photographs, most in polished art nouveau style silver frames. These shining barriers kept out the chaos of exile, like sentries marking off the archaeological remains of a former life. In this nimbus of gleaming silver, the table set with remnants of cracked Sevres china, the old Russia would come alive. I can still taste the crumbly thick slices of dark pumpernickel bread smothered with butter and honey and the hot sweet tea served up with her tales.

My first steps into that dark forest of her past occurred one morning two weeks after we met when I glimpsed a compelling face among the crowded photographs partially hidden on the crammed top shelf. The subject’s arresting eyes, flecked with an eerie white light like over exposed film, seemed focused directly on me. It struck me as a weird reversal, as if I was the inanimate subject in the photograph and he was examining me. Disconcerted, I looked away into the cluttered room, studying the labels on the old suitcases.

“I must remove that from the shelf.” Mme A stood up abruptly to retrieve the photo and with seeming reluctance, placed it on the table. “It is Gregori Efimevich Rasputin and my husband Georgi.”

“That?s Rasputin?” I continued to stare at the strange alien light in the man?s eyes.

She seemed flustered and struggled to explain.

“My ex- husband strived to be photographed with every famous person he knew. You can see.” She swept a hand toward the crowded shelves. George?s round complacent face with pinpoint eyes stared out from many of the photos in the back row of her collection, what she called her „rogues gallery?

In the photograph, the two men pose in front of a large building with a curved doorway in art nouveau style. Georgi, dark, very plump, and rather short, encased like a sausage in a dark suit, resembles a clerk. In contrast, Rasputin who looks to be in his forties is impressive, medieval in a long black robe encircled in the middle with a rope. His beard hangs down onto his chest, and his lank hair, parted in the middle, falls to his shoulders. His large nose and wide thin mouth are coarse, but not unattractive and fairly unremarkable, but his mesmerizing eyes dominate, as though they possess a separate identity, existing outside the photograph.

“They are standing in front of Rasputin?s building, 64 Ulitsa Gorokhovvaya, The Street of Peas. He lived on the third floor in Apt. 20, with a very convenient back entrance which he and his followers used in order to avoid being seen by the public.”

Her tiny fingers tapped at the scrawl at the bottom edge of the photo. “That is Rasputin?s signature. I have kept this because I thought it might be valuable for the children. Rare pictures of the Holy One are now worth quite a lot of money. I am loath to say that the value has much to do with vulgar lurid interest in him.”

“Wasn?t he called the Mad Monk?” I said.

Mme. A sighed deeply. “That was vile slander, but I admit there were differing opinions about him even among the intellectuals. Some believed he was a holy man. Those who despised him thought he was a depraved fraud.”

“But did you actually know Rasputin?” My voice couldn’t disguise my scepticism.

“I met him several times at receptions, but spoke at length with him only once when he arrived at our flat to meet Georgi who was his close acquaintance and business partner when the holy man was in great favour at the Tsar’s court.”

A guilty look swept over her sharp features. “I kept this snapshot against Georgi?s orders. It was taken in 1916, two days before Rasputin’s murder.”

She hesitated, as though debating whether or not to continue. “I suppose it is not of importance if I tell you. After Rasputin’s murder, Georgi was frantic to eliminate all evidence of their friendship. Of course, this was impossible. The Okhrana, the Tsar’s secret police, who guarded Rasputin’s life and also spied on him were aware of their association. Georgi’s visits were recorded in police notebooks.”

“Was it that dangerous to know him?” I had been strangely affected by the photograph, but still suspected she was exaggerating.

“Yes, after his death the Holy One’s friends were targeted by the Okhrana, who wanted to discredit him. Their leaks to the press were scandalous. „He frequented night clubs, like Yar, usually very drunk, and there were rumours that he used cocaine and other drugs. Once the police reported they found him having sex in a private room at Yar, sandwiched between a man and a woman.” I was shocked and stared down at the table, unable to look at her.

She seemed oblivious to my discomfort and went on. “The Okhrana might have been lying, but Georgi feared being associated with this kind of scandal.”

“But how could he have been a Holy Man if any of this was true?” I shivered, repulsed at her words, which seemed out of character for Mme. A., a member of the Intelligentsia.

She avoided my eyes, staring down at the photograph as though considering again how to explain the man, then said, “The Russian Orthodox Church has always sanctioned the tradition of wandering holy men called stranniki who receive prophetic and healing powers directly from God. Rasputin, a Siberian peasant, was struck by a vision of the Virgin Mary, who supposedly commanded him to wander in quest of God. Thus, he became known as a stranniki and healer, eventually becoming a favourite among the mystical devote in the aristocracy and the powerful bishops in St. Petersburg which led to an introduction to the royal family.”

To me even the name stranniki harkened back to some obscure medieval time, and it seemed incredible that in the Twentieth Century, Russians still had faith in miracles and prophets. I was sure Mme. A. didn?t believe this.

“In spite of rumours of his drunkenness and orgies, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna believed in Rasputin’s holiness, and worshipped him because he had the mysterious ability to stop the haemorrhaging of the Tsarevich Alexei, the heir to the throne. The poor child suffered from haemophilia, inherited from her.”

She shook her head sadly. “It was a tragedy. The Tsarina was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, the original carrier of the defective gene. Poor Alexandra was completely devastated and blamed herself for the Tsarevich’s incurable affliction.”

“Wasn?t there some scandal involving Rasputin and the Tsarina? Did he have an affair with her?” I asked.

Her eyes snapped with anger. “They were never lovers. Nor did he molest her daughters, the Grand Duchesses, as rumoured. The Tsarina desperately wanted her son to be healed and to inherit the throne. She was devoted to Rasputin because he gave her hope. The accusations of an affair were very unjust but understandable, because the public were ignorant of the Tsarevich’s illness and Rasputin?s ability to relieve his suffering.”

She took a drink of tea, reflecting. “It was a terrible mistake to keep the illness secret; it gave ammunition to opponents of the Tsar who believed Rasputin controlled the government through his influence with the Tsarina. The left wing press printed lewd cartoons of Alexandra Feodorovna and Rasputin that fomented the people’s hatred of the Romanovs.

“But was it true? Was he really able to stop the Tsarevich from bleeding?” I said, thinking that rational people could not believe that nonsense,

She dipped her spoon into the raspberry jam and slowly stirred it into her tea, before answering. “There was no medical explanation for Rasputin’s ability to stop the bleeding, but there were theories that he used drugs and hypnotism to help poor Alexei. Others concluded that Mme Vyrubova, a close friend of the Tsarina, informed Rasputin when the bleeding was abating. Then he would appear and pray over the boy as though he had affected the cure. And of course, the Tsarina, who was a mystic, thought his powers came directly from God.”

“What is your opinion?” I was intrigued by the mystery and sceptical of any supernatural explanations.

Her voice was barely audible. “Through the ages in Siberia there have existed healers called blood stillers, who practised secret rites to stop the bleeding of injured people and animals. This healing knowledge came to the Siberian peasants long ago from the Altai shaman, the ancient priests of the nomadic horse tribes of the steppes who handed down the secrets through generations. When the Bolsheviks took over the shamans were forbidden to practice on order of death and forced into hiding.”

A shadow passed over her normally kind face, and she seemed lost in reverie for a few moments. Then she muttered something in Russian under her breath, picked up my cup, poured the cold tea in the sink and filled me another from the boiling samovar. Her voice came at me from out of the steam.

“It is called Zagovarivatt? Krov”, this secret skill to control the flow of blood. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. What foreshadowing occurs to make you suspect Mme. A is not telling the truth and is hiding a secret?
2. How is Christina drawn into the dangerous conspiracy?
3. Are the different time periods effective in telling the story? ?

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