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Cold Victory

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Member Reviews

Published by Grove Press on January 9, 2024

Set at the end of World War II, Cold Victory combines a spy thriller with an outdoor adventure. The story’s darkness is offset by the theme of friendship between people of countries that are antagonistic to each other. The world could use more such friendships.

When Lt. Colonel Arnie Koski was assigned to act as a military attaché, Louise became more than an army wife. She became the wife of a spy. Newly arrived in Finland in 1946 (Koski is of Finnish ancestry and fluent in the language), Louise’s job is to help Arnie make social connections that might yield useful intelligence.

Arnie isn’t a cloak-and-dagger spy. His job is to look at roads and bridges and make logistic calculations about supply routes and troop movements in case war breaks out with Russia. While Germany has been defeated, peace treaties are still being negotiated. Russia views Finland as a threat because it sided with Germany during the war. Finland justly views Russia as a threat because Russia seized some of its land. Finland allied with Germany to get its land back, making an enemy of Russia, only to lose the land again (and a bit more). The historical view of Finns who hate Russians and aren’t that fond of Americans (who did too little, in their view, to help their cause) is fascinating.

Near the end of the fighting, Arnie was an Army major who performed reconnaissance in Finland. He came across Russian troops on the other side of a bridge and struck up a friendship with Mikhail Bobrov, a Russian officer. In the present, Arnie meets Mikhail again at a party for diplomats. Both soldiers have been promoted. Arnie and Mikhail get drunk and make a plan to race each other on skis. The race will take ten days.

Mikhail is married to Natalya. Louise and Natalya slowly become friends, their commonalities overcoming their political differences. They volunteer to help an orphanage that is operated by one of Arnie’s relatives. The orphanage needs financial help more than two bodies. Louise comes up with a plan to sell raffle tickets to raise money for the orphanage. The winner will be the person who come closest to predicting the difference in time it will take for Arnie and Mikhail to complete the race. Unfortunately, Louise is from Oklahoma and has no clue about international relations. Her plan to publicize a secret race sets in motion a potential disaster.

The race is an exciting story of courage, sacrifice, and the power of friendship. At the same time, the novel is grim in its depiction of Russia under Stalin and Beria. I give Karl Marlantes credit for having the courage to avoid the kind of shallow ending that is meant only to please readers. The world doesn’t always offer happy endings. Readers who insist upon one will probably want to avoid Cold Victory, although the story does end on an upbeat moment. Readers who appreciate well-told stories that address the world as it exists, stories of good people who exercise bad judgment and face the consequences of their actions, will find much to like in the novel’s strong characters, growing tension, and difficult moral choices.

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Set in Finland in 1046, this political thriller is about the political situation between the US and Russia portrayed through the lives of two families.

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Riveting is a word that appears frequently in book reviews, often without genuine merit. Such is not the case with Karl Marlantes’ marvelous new novel #ColdVictory which grabbed me by the lapels from its gripping opening pages to its inevitable conclusion. Taking place in Finland in the years after WW2 it tells the story of two families, one American ( the husband of Finnish decent ). the other Russian. The men know each from fighting together against Germany in the war and greatly respect their athletic and military prowess.. Unfortunately, the pride filled secret 500 kilometer ski race through the arctic goes awry. #ColdVictory tells the story of these two warriors, the close bond formed between their equally strong willed wives, and the Cold War which tears everything apart. A true cerebral page turner, #ColdVictory will haunt you well after you’ve finished it. Prepare to be riveted !

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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this eARC.

Cold Victory is a historical novel which explores the consequences of a clandestine ski race between two military attachés from rival superpowers in post-war Finland.

The author, Karl Marlantes, is best known for his acclaimed Vietnam War novel Matterhorn, and he brings the same skill and passion to this story of loyalty, friendship, and love in the shadow of totalitarianism. The book follows the perspectives of the two wives of the racers, Natalya and Louise, who have very different stakes and motivations in the outcome of the race. Natalya, a Russian, fears for her husband's life and her family's safety if he loses, while Louise, an American, sees the race as a chance to raise money for a local orphanage and to spice up her dull marriage. As the race becomes a global sensation and a symbol of the Cold War, the two wom noen must face the harsh realities of their choices and the consequences they bring.

The author masterfully weaves historical detail, fast-paced action, and psychological insight into a compelling and suspenseful narrative that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

A triumph of storytelling prowess that explores the human cost of ideological conflict and the power of love and friendship to overcome it..

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I’d call this literary historical fiction. It’s very informative. Very fact-heavy. Set in Finland shortly after the end of WW2, this will definitely appeal to readers of WW2 history - specifically on the Russian front, government and policy. Loved how drawn I was to the characters in Deep River. I didn't have that same experience with this book.

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COLD VICTORY by Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn) begins in 1946 Helsinki where American Arnie Koski and his wife, Louise, have just been assigned to a US military-diplomatic (read: intelligence gathering) post. They meet Russian Mikhail and his wife, Natalya Bobrova, at a social gathering and the men realize they know each other from the European battlefield. Some friendly joshing turns into a decision to race each other on skis over five hundred kilometers and much of the book deals with that harrowing experience. In the meantime, the two wives, using their ability to communicate in French, develop a close friendship and work together to benefit a Finnish orphanage. Both strong women and are tested in the post WWII environment. Of course, there is a pervasive sinister element due to the seemingly constant surveillance by the Soviet secret police. Lives are jeopardized in this well-written, action-packed adventure story.

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♦️Helsinki, 1947. The Soviet Union has full control over Finland, much to the disapproval of the West. There is a lot of tension between the Communists and the Capitalists where both parties are keenly observing the other's move, without going into direct conflict. Louise Koski, the wife of an American diplomat and Natalya Bobrova, the wife of a Russian diplomat, meet at an embassy party. Their husbands, both former soldiers, in a drunken state, challenge each other over a secret but friendly, cross-country race in the wilderness of Finland. Louise takes it as an opportunity to raise money for an orphanage. However, Natalya is horrified. If the Soviet Union comes to know about the race and Mikhail loses, it will be death for him, imprisonment for her and orphanage for the children. Under Stalin's regime, they cannot accept defeat. Feeling guilty about her action, Louise wants to stop her husband, Arnie, from winning it. However, how will she find him in the Arctic landscape? Will Arnie be ready to give up the race to save the life of his friend? What action will the Soviet secret police take to save their honour?

💥This is a historical fiction which gives us an idea about the situation in Europe after the Second World War. The author gives a clear picture about the life of Russians during that time, where their every move was scrutinized by the MGB. Stalin's totalitarianism made the lives of Russians a living hell and they even suspected their closest relations of reporting against them. Finland was torn between the power struggle of the West and the Soviet Union. The book is quite atmospheric and the descriptions of Finnish winter is bound to make the reader feel cold.

💥Louise and Natalya are the two main characters in this story and their lives are poles apart. While Natalya has been living in fear of the MGB, Louise has the privilege of enjoying an American life where they have the right to question the Government. While Natalya is a mother of two, Louise has been trying for years for a child with no positive result. However, when their lives collide, they become the best of friends who can share their pain with each other.

💥This book has the ability to keep you hooked till the last page. It throws light on some important but not so well known chapters of history after the Second World War. Readers who are interested in historical fiction must definitely check this out.
             I would like to thank NetGalley, the author and the publisher for an ARC of this book.

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In post-WWII Finland where the US and Russia both have a strong presence, old friends during the war, American diplomat Arnie and Russian Mikhail, reconnect at a party. Emboldened by a few drinks the men challenge one another to a cross-country ski race across Finland in the harsh winter conditions. With their wives baffled at this show of testosterone and patriotism, they work to make the race a fund-raiser for an orphanage. The race represents communism vs capitalism and the prospect of losing the race means more than the loss of pride.

COLD VICTORY explores the value of individual lives over history and politics and how our perceptions of war can change. When the truth is fluid and propaganda runs rampant the stakes for the ski race couldn’t be higher.

Learning about Finland’s history during WWII and considering the cultural ramifications of a diplomatic mis-step were fascinating to me. I always love themes of loyalty and sacrifice and this book had it in spades. I pick up historical fiction to gain new world perspectives, and COLD VICTORY certainly delivered on that front.

READ THIS IF YOU:
-are interested in new-to-you world historhy
-have ever made a friendly wager
-love stories of women helping women

RATING: 4.5/5 (rounded up to 5 stars)
PUB DATE: January 9, 2024

Many thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for an electronic ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This novel is very different in tone, content, and narrative style than Marlantes' blockbuster hit MATTERHORN, which is *the* definitive guide to what it was really like to be a grunt in the Vietnam War. If you haven't yet read it, I highly recommend it.

Our story begins in Finland, not long after the close of WWII. The setting involves the tricky politics of the diplomatic corps in Helsinki, but what grabbed my attention was the quick refresher on Finn WWII history. That was the most fascinating part of the story for me. I kind of wish that the story had begun with the war itself. The author does a very good job of presenting the difficulty of effective diplomacy in a country which suffered more than America did, and whose customs and language seem opaque and impenetrable.

Marlantes also does a splendid job of rendering that special brand of oligarchal hypocrisy known as Soviet communism. There is no egalitarian country in the world, of course, but the excessively indulgent opulence of well-connected wealthy Russians is legendary, and probably always will be. This particular brand of swagger thrust about by the Soviet envoy, was certainly meant to reflect dominance and power, not just in Finland, but in all of Eastern Europe. The Soviets were treating the countries of the Eastern bloc like trinkets at a fire sale. The presence of the Soviet head of security services at the home of the Soviet envoy, could in itself communicate the sort of brutish power they held, and not just over the Finns. The message being that the diplomatic delegation from the U.S. should watch its step, and take care not to get in the way.

Since I was expecting a serious Cold War espionage novel, I was surprised and gladdened to see that Marlantes' main characters exhibited both clever retorts and snappy humor. You have to love the line that the worst thing about diplomacy is having to be diplomatic.

In this novel the spotlight is on the wives, the women who are navigating unchartered diplomatic waters with far less information than that afforded to their husbands. For Louise, being the wife of a diplomat makes her feel adrift. Her husband Arnie is a Finn, knows the language and culture. Louise lurches from one misstep to another. But, as it is after all wars, there are huge numbers of orphans. This lights a fire under her, gives her purpose, a cause she is willing to fight for. Arnie seems a bit cool on the subject, but he understands that this is important to Louise. The children need her, and she needs them.

Marlantes presents a reason behind the forced starvation of Ukraine that had never occurred to me. It was still indefensible, but it does explain a little better about why the Russians did it.

No country suffered as many military and civillian losses as Russia. Between unspeakable war horrors and the political purges, it's no wonder many Russians became hard-edged and focused mainly on self-preservation.

Marlantes hints at certain conclusions without saying them outright, especially the understanding that Americans at home could not imagine the suffering of people in Europe or Asia, because the war never came to our mainland. Any Russian tendency towards extreme toughness and brutality is, again, indefensible, but also something we can see the cause of.

The author does a reasonably good job of describing the dance of espionage with paranoia. It was a volatile time when you couldn't trust anyone and every step required diplomatic choreography. The tension among the Russians, the Finns, and the Americans, never lets up. Each let their pride and nationalism get in the way.

Sometimes, the naivete of Louise gets on my last nerve, but in a way, she is the most fearless. Her husband Arnie, and Natalya and her husband Mikhail, seem like they are too busy keeping their cards close, so worried about tipping their hand that they forget to play.

The ski race, to be honest, was not a very satisfying source of tension for me, even with so much political danger riding on the outcome. I guess I was looking for a more cloak & dagger, secret code, spycraft, kind of cold war thriller, and much of this novel is stuck out in the snow, the ice, and the dreaded bog. I was looking for a more edge of your seat, fast-paced drama. It's odd that the race itself is what slows down the story. I think Kirkus Reviews sums this up neatly by describing COLD VICTORY in this way: "A few longueurs aside, there’s enough cat and mouse here to keep Cold War thriller buffs engaged."

Thank you to Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, and NetGalley, for providing a proof of this e-book for review.

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It is 1947 and the Cold War is just beginning. Arnie Koski is a veteran of WWII and has been assigned to the American legation in Finland. His wife is Louise, deeply in love with her husband but totally naive in the ways of international diplomacy. Mikhail Bobrova from Russia is another war hero assigned to Finland. His wife is Natalya, orphaned when her parents were executed for no other reason than suspicion of wrong doing. She is much more world-wise as well as the mother of two. Arnie and Mikhail know each other, having met near the end of the war and having developed a mutual respect. When they decide to wage a friendly cross-country ski race, they unknowingly initiate a political crisis given the underlying political climate as well as the unpredictable and “fear of losing” Russian psyche. Louise unwittingly further escalates the political situation when she decides to raise money for an orphanage based on selling raffle tickets based on the “race.” What ensues is a pulse pounding narrative, not just of the race but of the political implications on both sides of the spectrum.

I requested the ARC of this novel because I had read Marlantes in the past - and once again, he did not disappoint. Marlantes has brought to life what so many suspected was life under the Communist regime in Russia-in the motherland as well as the many SSR’s and those countries that remained under communist rule for so many years following World War II. I was also mostly unaware of the situation Finland faced during the war - first as a Russian ally and then as a German ally - although probably more correctly being occupied by the opposing sides. A well-researched story that will grab you from the very beginning and keep your interest to the last page. My thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the ARC of this novel.

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I knew I HAD to read Cold Victory as soon as I read the blurb. I have a weak spot for historical fiction set during or just after WWII, and I don't often get to visit Finland at the same time. I was intrigued by the 1947 Finnish setting, while also looking forward to learn more about the Russian influence at that time... And I have to say that this story more than delivered for me. Part historical fiction, part political thriller and part survival story, Cold Victory turned out to be an atmospheric, captivating and simply fascinating read!

This is the first book I've read by this author, and I was thoroughly impressed by the descriptions and development of the historical setting. The author was able to truly bring Finland to life with the abundant descriptions of both the setting itself and the local customs. The Finland wilderness was beautifully described in the survival part of the plot, and harsh environment almost felt like yet another character. I could also highly appreciate the incorporation and explanation of the Finnish situation in 1947 with its Russian influence, as it's not something you come across often in books and my knowledge about the post war era in Finland was limited. The way this information was incorporated into the plot felt natural and didn't slow down the pace at all.

Cold Victory tells its story using a multiple POV structure, although we mainly stick with the two military attaché wives. Louise is originally from Oklahoma and I wasn't too big of a fan of her character to be honest, mostly because she is WAY too naive and almost felt like a caricature. Her character frustrated the hell out of me in certain parts of the plot, and especially how she keeps screwing up and then expecting others to solve the problem. I liked Natalya's POV a lot better, as it was more nuanced and it gave more insight in what it was like being a Russian in that era. I especially appreciated the Arnie and Mikhail POVs during the wilderness race though, which were fascinating.

While there is a lot of politics involved in Cold Victory, as a whole the plot felt balanced thanks to the other elements in play. This story is also one about friendship and loyalty, as well as the race itself of course... There is a lot of suspense and intrigue to be found along the way, and quite a few heavier topics are incorporated into the plot. I became an instant fan of the writing style, which was both atmospheric and extremely engaging. I literally couldn't put this story down!

If you enjoy atmospheric, expertly crafted and compelling post war historical fiction, Cold Victory will be a great match. The Finnish wilderness setting is an added bonus! I will be looking forward to read more of this author in the future.

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This sounds awesome so I’m going to try to find it in finished form. My ARC formatting was a mess. I also have another book by this author.

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Riveting - fascinating - enlightening. I learned so much about issues at the end of WWII: the relationship between the USA and Russia; the history of Finland and Russia’s relationship; Finnish culture; the horrors that Russia dealt its citizens. All these facts, presented in an easily understood way, in a story I could not stop reading. So grateful that I read this!

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My first read by Carl Marlantes and it won’t be my last, is an incredibly well woven combination of political thriller, historical fiction and story of friendship. Dispatched to Finland post WWII, two former allies, one, Arnie Koski, from the US, and the other a war hero from Soviet Russia, Mikhail Bobrova, find themselves together again in diplomacy frought with Cold War tension. Arnie’s wife Louise , a naive former sorority girl from Oklahoma, is drawn to the beautiful and very worldly Natalya Bobrova in a deep friendship with underlying concerns about trust in a time when capitalism and totalitarian communism are beginning their long term battle for worldwide supremacy. Natalya is the orphaned daughter of parents executed on “suspicion “ which is all it took to doom the couple and leave Natalya to grow up in an orphanage. Louise and Arnie are childless despite deep longing to be parents. The characters are extremely well drawn and quite realistic.

When the two men concoct a friendly but misguided ski competition they set off a chain of events that make for a page turning disaster in the making. Their lives and those of their families are in jeopardy as they ski off into a frigid winter test of skill and endurance in northern Finland. After making a serious mistake in judgment, Louise, tries to find a way to undo her error, but is there enough time? Can anybody be trusted?

Marlantes has done his homework carefully. He deftly describes a time in the history of Finland and the Soviet Union with which I was unfamiliar, creating a plausible and compelling plot that races to a heart stopping finish. Five stars for an exciting read from beginning to end. Many thanks to NetGalley and Grove Press for providing me with an advance readers copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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A tale of unintended consequences and naivete. It's 1947 and Louise and her husband Arnie are newly arrived in Helsinki where he will serve as a military attache. Across a crowded room, he spies Mikhail, a Russian he met in the depths of the fighting in WWII and thus we are off. Louise bonds with Mikhail's wife Natalya over efforts to fund an orphanage run by a relative of Arnie's even as Arnie and Mikhail plan a race on skis across Finland. There's interesting insight into the way Finnish citizens viewed both Russia and US in the wake of the war and how that impacts the lives of these two couples. Natalya is the most interesting of the group , Arnie and Mikhail hardly figure until the race and even then there's very little about their back stories, and Louise is, while not vapid, more than a little naive. Regardless, I found this a page turner toward the end. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. No spoilers from me.

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When Finnish born American Arnie Koski is posted to the US legation in Helsinki in 1947, his wife Louise is nervous about how they will cope in this post war country that suffered huge infrastructure damage in the war when they became allied with Germany and now must pay heavy reparations to the Soviet Union. The USA and Soviet Union are uneasy allies at best and neither trusts the other.

When Louise and Arnie are invited to a party at the Soviet Embassy, Arnie is delighted to be recognised by Mikhail Bobrova, a Russian officer he once met in Europe on the battlefield at the end of the war when the US and Soviet army were chasing the Germans out of Austria. Both men were renowned for their excellent skiing and after one too many drinks, Mikhail challenges Arnie to a 300 mile cross country skiing race in Finland’s arctic wilderness.

Louise doesn’t speak Finnish or Russian pleased to discover that Mikhail’s wife, Natalya speaks French, a language Louise studied at school, especially when she discovers they have a lot in common, especially a love of literature. Longing for children of her own, Louise has volunteered to work in a local orphanage which is barely coping to provide food and clothing to the many war orphans and convinces Natalya to help out as well.

Although Mikhail and Arnie decide to keep the race a secret from their respective bosses, Louise naively lets the secret out of the bag after the race is underway. Once the international press gets to hear of it, the race becomes one of national pride and the superiority of communism for the Soviets, who are determined that Mikhail cannot be allowed to lose.

The political tensions and undercurrents are well depicted in the novel, as was the rugged wilderness and cold of the arctic wilderness and the courage and resilience of both men, and I love that gorgeous cover depicting a man skiing across an icy landscape under the Northern Lights. However, I did find it hard to believe that Louise, the wife of a diplomat, was as naïve as depicted, and that Arnie hadn’t impressed on her the need to keep the race secret. He would surely have known that the Soviets shouldn’t find out about it, even if he hadn’t thought through the politics of the situation and the danger for Mikhail and his family. However, it does make for an action packed drama with the two men racing each other against the elements in the wilderness, unaware of the danger and the political impasse unfolding in the wider world. This is an engrossing tale, particularly if you are interested in post-WW2 history and early Cold War politics.

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This story is told in third person and follows the two wives of military attachés posted to Finland at the end of WWII, one from America and one from Russia. Their husbands met during the war facing adversity together and now just want to celebrate life. However, their novice positions perhaps require more finesse than their prior experiences necessitated. Though there is a language barrier between the two wives, they develop a somewhat tremulous friendship built on their similar positions and mutual respect for their husbands and family.

Louise, the American wife, appears quite naïve at times, not understanding the ramifications of personal missteps and the consequences that others with less freedom may face. The severe political pressure on Natalya and her family due to Russian espionage was incredibly invasive. Natalya lived in constant fear for her family while the oblivious Louise attempted to bring everyone together to help the Finnish orphans.

I learned a lot about the history of Finland both before, during and after the war. There was a suspensive aspect to this story as the ski race between the American and the Russian across the isolated countryside develops bringing both physical and political dangers. The reluctance on the locals’ part to help or even to hinder either skier was horrifying in its justification.

Recommended to readers that enjoy political tension, friendships formed in an environment of adversity and those interested in a different WWII setting than the usual suspects.

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for a copy provided for an honest review.

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An unusual setting and unusual story! It was so interesting to read about post WW2 Finland and the relationship between a Russian and American couple both working for their respective governments. I found the American wife's character a little too naive and the Russian wife's character a little too world-weary, but the juxtaposition made for vivid contrasts and kept the story alive. The details of the race itself were fascinating and though the ending was predictable, it was indeed satisfying. I think this book will appeal to a wide variety of readers and readers will feel they've taken a trip to Finland themselves, thanks to the authentic details the author provides.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this unusual book!

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Set in 1947 Helsinki, Cold Victory by Karl Marlantes is an absolutely engrossing and extraordinary Historical Fiction story about politics, relationships and loyalties during a very uncertain post WWII era. The history is very informative and I enjoyed learning more.

American Louise and her Finnish American husband Arnie are hired to ease tensions as diplomats in Finland. Louise is trained in diplomacy and social situations but makes naive blunders which place others at risk. Her heart is in orphanage work and her desire is to raise money in a raffle, a Western idea which has potentially frightening and dangerous repercussions. Married couple Ukrainian Mikail and his Russian wife Natalya are thrown together with Louise and Arnie. One evening the two men who are old friends get drunk and challenge each other to a long-distance ski race. But it unfortunately gets leaked to the press and the story becomes politicized, drawing the USA and USSR into possible political challenges. The reader follows the race itself, the raffle idea in the media and the lengths the women go to in clash prevention.

My favourite aspects were the setting and sizzling political undercurrents with a fabulous sense of foreboding and danger on every page. The pace is quick and sharp and characters interesting. I zipped through the story at breakneck speed to see how it would end yet hung onto every word.

If you seek something unusual and are eager to expand your knowledge about historical tensions between Finland and USSR, do add this to your list.

My sincere thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for providing me with an early digital copy of this fascinating novel.

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Every page of "Cold Victory" bristles with tension and distrust. Any why not? Karl Marlantes takes two young couples--one American and one Russian-- and places them in 1947 Helsinki where stakes are high at the end of World War II when Finland is being pulled between East and West. Arnie Koski is a Finnish-American, fluent in the language and a veteran of the European Theater. His wife, Louise, is from Oklahoma and this is her first foray out of the US. Arnie and Misha Bobrov met at a crucial point during the war and liked each other immediately. Now, in Helsinki, Louise and Natalya form a similar bond. Of course, distrust and paranoia thrums everywhere and it is hard to have a natural friendship where listeners abound. The men make a drunken bet to set off on a secret long-distance cross-country ski race, each wrangling a free week to spend in the wilderness.

What comes out of this race is, well, you'll see. Louise sets off tragedy, supposedly out of naivety, but that doesn't ring true, so perhaps she's playing the long game and out -maneuvers them all.

"Cold Victory" is one of those books that unfolds layer by layer the more you think about it. Arnie's grandmother is the committed communist Aino from "Deep River." He has a Finnish cousin whose hatred of the Soviets becomes a turning point in the story. Natalya has a past that would chill anyone's heart.

Marlantes' choice of Finland to set his novel is brilliant. It's a time and place where the shape of the post-war future is being formed and danger walks beside each character. Good stuff.

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