Strap in! Owen Thomas’ The Russian Doll is a wild, epic ride that’s as thought-provoking as it is exhilarating; if you’re up for the task, you’ll be in for a treat.
Following the award winning “Message in a Bullet”, “The Russian Doll” is Thomas’ second instalment in the Raymond Mackey Mystery series. Still grappling with the death of his wife and a mental
disorder that causes him to occasionally see his life play out before him in the third person, Mack tries without much success to reclaim his career as a detective at a new police department. Mack’s life is once again turned upside down when he receives a visit from Nadia King, a mysterious woman seeking his services to retrieve an antique heirloom Russian doll. As one might expect, Mack soon learns that not everything is as simple as it seems. Our antihero must weave through bullets, deception, and a sordid past in order to find the truth and solve the case. Redemption is just a few steps away, if only Mack can stay alive long enough to turn the corner.

Coming in at a whopping 933 pages, nearly four times the length of its precursor, “The Russian Doll” is uncharacteristically long for novels of the mystery genre. However, it’s safe to say that, as is often the case, Thomas’ tongue is in his cheek; he knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well. If you’re willing to indulge Thomas, you’ll find that this chaotic tale of epic proportions is well worth the investment. Not to mention, between Thomas’ punchy style of prose and the book’s labyrinthine plot full of twists and turns, the reading goes quite quickly, all things considered. There’s never a dull moment or a specific point at which you realize that you’ve just gone through hundreds of pages.

“The Russian Doll” sees the return of several old characters and the introduction of a few new ones, as well, striking a satisfying balance between wish fulfilment and exploratory world building. But, while Thomas’ characters continue to entertain, it’s his command of writing themes into his work that carries the brilliance of “The Russian Doll.” As, perhaps, the title of the book suggests, the major theme on display in this instalment is nesting, and it echoes throughout virtually every other element of the story: the plot, the characters; the writing style, etc. In fact, it is largely the masterful execution of this theme that justifies, and even venerates, the book’s page count. Thomas gives himself plenty of space to tell stories within stories, promising that, with each layer deeper you go, you will find yourself more and more entranced by the mad genius of the world he’s created in the Raymond Mackey Mystery series.

“The Russian Doll” is challenging, but it’s just as rewarding; Thomas thrives at the intersection of the perplexing and the downright breathtaking.