Recently I had the rare luxury of an entire day shopping all to myself. As you might expect, I spent much of my time in a bookstore wandering the mystery/thriller aisles. As anyone who knows me wouldn’t expect, I left the store with only one book!
I have to admit it was the cover that grabbed my attention first. For some reason I’m drawn to snowscapes. (Also islands, forests, windswept shores, light houses, remote cabins, derelict buildings – pretty much any lonely, forgotten place – but especially snow.)
The title was the next thing that drew me in. The Half Life of Valery K. Different. Intriguing. And suggesting a possible science theme which I always enjoy.
Still, cover and title, however compelling, are never enough to induce me to buy. Which was why I was thrilled when I turned the book over and read the back: A Russian scientist is whisked from the gulag in which he’s served six years of a ten year sentence and transported to a remote laboratory in a dying forest to serve out his remaining term researching the effects of radiation on the local ecosystem.
Science, drama and political intrigue? Now we’re talking!
Even so, I didn’t want to get my hopes too high. Books don't always live up to my enthusiastic first impressions. But as of this posting - now three-quarters of the way through the book - I'm happy to report the author hasn't just met my hopes, she's greatly exceeded that.
With all the science stuff in the story I feared it could get a bit dry and technical. (Michael Crichton take a bow.) But The Half Life of Valery K is one of the most emotion-packed stories I’ve read in a long time.
The characters and their developing relationship are drawn with such depth and sensitivity they worked their way into my heart before I even knew it was happening.
The pace is more relentless than fast and charged with the ever-deepening sense that something terrible is coming, both on a personal and universal scale.
In fact I get the distinct impression Pulley could write about any topic in any genre and make it an absolute delight to read. Barely a paragraph goes by in this book without a sentence I need to read twice just for the sheer magic of it.
As I said, I haven’t quite finished this story. But if it half lives up to what I’ve read so far (and I have every confidence that it will) The Half Life of Valery K will go down as one of my favorite books and Pulley one of my new favorite authors.
What a great way to start my reading year!