The Distinguished Assassin

The Distinguished Assassin

Publication date: 10th June 2013

1952. Stalin’s Russia. Persecuted by vicious MVD agent Vladimir Primakov, betrayed by his beautiful wife and forced to the very bottom of life by the cruel system he lives under, war hero and former professor Aleksei Klebnikov is offered a mission by the notorious thief-in-law Ivan Bessonov: to assassinate six leading Communists, all of them evil men.

Aleksei agrees to undertake it, this mission, after which he will finally have his revenge on Primakov, who also stole his wife. But when, with just one man left to kill, Aleksei is suddenly reunited with her, he discovers that all is not quite what it seems, and that perhaps he has an even greater enemy than Primakov, his wife and the Communist system…

Written in Taussig’s strong, distinctive voice, and with a great moral sense, The Distinguished Assassin is a fantastic achievement by a writer who has successfully married the fictional styles of crime and historical fiction, the novel containing pace and insight in equal measure. The story Taussig tells, of a persecuted intellectual’s revenge against Russian Communists, is not only a tense, thrilling and addictive tale of one man’s fight against a wicked and corrupt regime, but also an intelligent, thoughtful and moving account of life in Soviet Russia.


The Distinguished Assassin is Professor Aleksei Klebnikov, banished to a Gulag labour camp in 1949 on trumped-up charges. Set free in 1952, he becomes a hitman for a gangster, assigned to murder six brutal, highly placed Communist officials. Klebnikov’s ultimate aim is to kill the man responsible for his captivity and who, he believes, seduced his wife in his absence. The story is told in alternate chapters covering his time as prisoner and after his release. Through Klebnikov, the plight of the Russian people under Stalinist rule is grippingly demonstrated. Taussig’s style – short on dialogue and long on descriptions and Klebnikov’s thoughts – takes a bit of getting used to, but turns out to be effective for the passionate political and emotional content of his novel.”
Marcel Berlins, The Times

Natasha Harding, The Sun

“Le Carré-esque, dense and meditative…dealing with big issues of how a man can become evil in a world that has lost its way.”
Alex Heminsley, BBC Radio 2 Arts Show

“Filled with larger than life characters, good and bad, every page draws you into a world that we might think is terrifyingly unreal… yet we also know from recent history certainly isn’t. This is a compelling read, and Taussig has absolutely nailed the background, the conditions, the people – and the dilemma of a man betrayed by the system, the authorities, the functionaries and even the weather itself… Recommended.”
Adrian Magson, Shotsmag

“Taussig is determined we should never forget the brutal excesses of Stalin’s Soviet Russia… So what better way to recall a regime defined by its ruthless state control and vicious secret police than a novel which combines politics, crime and history in a page-turning and yet moving and thought-provoking thriller. It’s a daring and complex plot which takes us from the grim streets of 1950s Moscow deep into a labour camp in the heart of Siberia’s Gulag hell and has distinct echoes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s groundbreaking book The Gulag Archipelago. Inevitably, Taussig’s account of how an essentially good man turns bad in a country which has lost its moral compass is an emotional and harrowing reading experience but stays true to its purpose of exposing the terrible realities of Stalinist Russia. Taussig’s style is robust, descriptive, passionate and searingly honest. Through the horrifying plight of Aleksei, we see the wider picture of a country brought to its knees by the immovable, mind-numbing, emotionally bankrupt and self-serving logic of a Communist machine which puts politics before people. Fast-paced, brimming with suspense and intelligently imagined, The Distinguished Assassin is a heart-felt reminder of the inhumanities of state repression, and an addictive thriller with a powerful moral message.”
Pam Norfolk, Lancashire Evening Post

“This novel ain’t subtle. It’s a sledgehammer of a book which bludgeons its embattled protagonist, and the reader, again and again. Aleksei, the assassin of the title, stumbles from one abasement to another: the killing of his parents, the apparent betrayal of his beloved wife, his incarceration in the remote gulag of Kolyma, and his brief and unhappy career as a reluctant angel of vengeance. The motley collection of state operatives, criminals and nomenklatura who populate The Distinguished Assassin are about as corrupt and brutal a bunch as you are ever likely to meet. Taussig pokes beneath the grimy undershirts of the Russian experiment, in the aftermath of Stalin’s demise when his lieutenants scrabbled for control, to discover the disease mutating beneath its sallow skin. It’s a seriously grim book. But it’s a big, emotional novel in the Russian style – not for nothing did the author gain a Master’s in Russian Literature. The Distinguished Assassin is written in prose that’s sometimes muscular and terse, and other times florid and elaborate. In these days of dry and ironic thrills, which tiptoe tastefully through history, Taussig does something very brave: he tells his tale with an impassioned, barely-contained fury. He slaps on the emotion good and thick, cranks up the Russian melodrama – it’s a righteous and unashamedly theatrical novel. The Distinguished Assassin may not be to everybody’s taste – as a crime novel, Stalin’s Russia is a precinct well-trodden by Tom Rob Smith, Sam Eastland and William Ryan, for example – but it’s violent and intoxicating and unexpectedly full of heart, and it smacks you in the face like a cold blast of Siberian air.”
Mark Hill, Crime Thriller Fella

“While reading this novel about life in Stalin’s Soviet Russia, I was reminded very strongly of Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago. This is a powerful story of love and betrayal, of friendship and hatred. It introduces crime fiction fans to an unfamiliar world, with what seems to me great insight into that particular historical period. A cracking read with a strong moral message.”
Marina Sofia, Crime Fiction Lover

“Taussig doesn’t flinch from portraying life in Kolyma in bleak, grisly detail, yet in a matter-of-fact way that makes it all the more powerful. The novel is a compelling portrayal of a nightmarish period of history. Aleksei’s role as everyman reminds us that the horrors of Soviet Russia affected everyone, and Taussig paints an effective portrait of an ordinary man driven to the most extreme actions.”
Gareth Watkins, Killing Time

“The violence, poverty and the terror of ordinary people in this era are very graphically portrayed. Recommended as an interesting read.”
Susan White, Euro Crime

“I was hoping for another Stellar Stalinesque Story – and my God doesn’t Taussig deliver. In short, I loved The Distinguished Assassin. This is a must for anyone who loves a fallible hero – it’s a veritable vodka-soaked voyage of blood and redemption.”
Liam Tarry, The Book Boy

“We follow Aleksei’s journey though the harsh conditions of the prison to his release and his realisation that he has to kill these men. He has to put aside his conscience in order to carry out the task and we see his character change as he goes about the assassinations. The book is brutal, it really portrays the harsh conditions Aleksei has to face in the Gulag and you can really feel the cold biting into your soul. It gives you an insight into how a person can change in order to survive and the terror that Soviet citizens must have faced every day. A riveting book with an unexpected twist at the end, definitely a must read.”
Dragons and Fairy Dust

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