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Sunday, 13 December 2015

☀ Corruption of Power: Alex Leksin [2] - G.W. Eccles

Thank you for joining us for our spotlight feature on Corruption of Power, a Political Thriller by (, Peach Publishing, 320 pages).

This is the second book in the Alex Leksin series.

Corruption of Power is available now for pre-order, and will be on sale from tomorrow, Monday 14 December 2015!

PREVIEW: Check out the book's synopsis and excerpt below.  Corruption of Power will be available FREE on Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owner's Lending Library.


Synopsis | Teaser | The Series | Author Q&A | About the Author |

Synopsis

Russia's sights are set on expansion. The prospect of a new cold war is inconsequential . . . .

Independent troubleshooter, Alex Leksin, is recruited by Prime Minister Saidov when the plan to reduce Russia’s reliance on an ever more hostile Europe is put at risk.
Hell bent on expansion, President Karpev’s strategy is first to shift the markets for his country’s vast energy resources to the East and Saidov has been charged with overseeing a planned pipeline for Russia’s oil through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to access these markets. Failure could mean catastrophe, spreading the conflict raging in the Middle East to Russia’s own borders.

Fearful that the pipeline deal might be tilting off course, Leksin has only twelve days to report back before Karpev is due to sign the pipeline contract with the Turkmen President in Ashgabat.

His investigation begins in Moscow at the conglomerate responsible for planning and funding the pipeline. Once the province of larger-than-life oligarch, Lev Usenko, the group is now run by his daughter, Vika, the woman Leksin was once to marry. Trickier still is the prospect of dealing with her embittered brother, Max.

Against a background of political corruption, state-sponsored terrorism and increased Taliban insurgency, Leksin moves on to Turkmenistan, one of the world's most sinister countries, right at the heart of Central Asia. Initially his enquiries reveal nothing to cause alarm. Other factors, though, suggest otherwise: wherever Leksin goes, someone tries to kill him; people in a position to help him are assassinated; and information turns out to be misinformation.

And when at last he discovers the truth, he finds himself unsure of whom he can trust as the stakes get frighteningly higher.

Teaser: Excerpt

Prologue

Garabil Plateau, Turkmenistan -Twenty-four hours earlier

     A helicopter crested the hill, flying high and fast. Spotting two figures hunched below, the young recruit drew them to the pilot’s attention. The helicopter banked sharply and swooped across. Hooking a protective arm around Yana, his daughter, Batyr dragged her down and shielded her from the downward draught with his own body. The helicopter hovered above while the recruit inspected them. Apparently satisfied, he waved the pilot onward.
     Batyr remained crouched until the helicopter reached the far side of the valley then, clambering to his feet, he brushed the grit off his daughter’s faded tunic.
     “We need to get a move on, Yana, your mother will be worried.”
     But she slipped his hands. Something had caught her attention, and his eyes shifted towards a herd of Saiga, long-nosed antelopes, grazing on the slope above them, the adults in a protective circle around the young. The startled animals pressed closer to one another, their bulging eyes combing for danger.
     To their left, a caracel cat, laying low in the scant undergrowth, edged furtively forward. Its elongated, tufted black ears twitched as it bided its time for an unsuspecting youngster to stray from the herd. In a flash, the antelopes picked up its scent and raced off, huddled together as if glued by shared panic, leaving no straggler open to attack. As another helicopter clattered into view on the next loop in the meticulous circuit that had raked the Garabil Plateau all day, the cat veered off, abandoning its pursuit.
     “What the hell’s going on?” Batyr grumbled, grabbing his daughter’s hand. The helicopters and patrols had been out since dawn, an unwelcome intrusion into this remote region’s usual stillness. What were they looking for?
     The path wound along the contours of the hill. Below them lay the fragmented rock-bed of a stream, dry now in the middle of summer. Its banks were covered with mandrakes, their tiny blue flowers framed by ragged teeth-like leaves. Beyond them, the Paropamisus Mountains loomed across the Afghan border, etched precisely in the late afternoon sun.
     As they rounded the bend, they stumbled straight into a team of conscripts searching the hillside under the local commandant’s stern, unforgiving glare. Batyr knew the man a little – sometimes they shared a bottle of bootleg vodka together – but he harboured no illusions about him. The commandant was an out-and-out bastard. As a young subaltern in the Afghan War, he’d learned his craft at the notorious interrogation centre at Tagtabazar where Afghan prisoners were questioned before they disappeared, and he never tired of boasting of the tortures he’d inflicted. Nonetheless, out here on the plateau, Batyr knew, it paid to keep on the right side of the military, so from time to time he bit his lip and raised a glass with the man.
     One of the conscripts moved to block their path, but the commandant intervened.
     “I know this man,” he growled. “Move on, Batyr. Nothing for you here.”

     ***

     A bang at the door. Batyr threw a quick glance towards Tania, his wife, then shooed her and Yana to the back of the room. He waited until they were both out of sight before opening the door just a crack, his left foot rammed against the inner edge.
     Outside a lean-framed man slumped against the stone wall, chest heaving as he struggled for breath, his bloodied shirt in shreds. He turned his head as the door opened and Batyr took in the angry scratches crisscrossing his haggard face.
     “Let me in . . . Please . . . They’re after me.” He pleaded in Russian, his voice rasping like an athlete after a race.

     Batyr drew back, in no doubt that this was the soldiers’ quarry. As if to rub it in, search dogs lower down the valley picked up the scent and began to bark furiously. It was only a question of time before they closed in.
     “Please, man, let me in . . . They’ll kill me . . . ”
     Batyr glanced back at his wife. Her eyes stabbed his, hard and unrelenting. No, she mouthed, pointing at Yana, you can’t.
     A moment of indecision, then he gave a resigned shrug.
     “I’m sorry.” He squeezed out the words, sounding as if he meant them. “My family . . .”
     And heaving the door shut, he slammed the bolt across.

     ***

     A shot echoed, followed by shouts of excitement, brutal in the heavy silence. Batyr’s shaky hand poured another vodka, his fifth.
     “We should have taken him in, woman.”
     His wife stared at the table, as if she hadn’t heard.
     “You know what’ll happen,” he continued.
     Another shot, and this time a scream.
     Batyr sprang up, his chair toppling behind him. “I’m going out,” he grunted.
     Outside he covered the ground nimbly, moving towards the sounds in the valley. Catching the glimmering of light from the soldiers’ torches, he stalked them with a hunter’s ease as they headed for the track that ran between the new factory and the village of Garkent. Two army jeeps were parked on the verge, and Batyr watched as they heaved the wounded man onto the back seat and set off towards their barracks. Pausing until they were out of sight, he crossed the track and took the shortcut over the hill.
     By the time he caught up, the two jeeps had pulled up outside a low-lying building in the barracks thirty metres from the sleeping quarters. In the faint moonlight, he could just discern the outlines of the soldiers dragging the wounded man inside. They looked far too preoccupied with their prey to notice much else, and slipping under the wire, he darted towards the rear of the building. Cautiously, he peered at an angle through a window, slightly ajar.
     Batyr watched as the soldiers tied the man to a chair, his head bowed, blood seeping dark on his shoulder. A moment later Batyr’s muscles tensed as the commandant came into view and, grabbing the man’s hair, jerked back his head.
     “Who sent you?” the commandant asked, almost in a whisper.
     No reply.
     Placing his hand on the man’s injured shoulder, he pressed down until the man convulsed in pain. Easing back, he repeated the question: “Who sent you?”
     The man tried to twist away, his face taut but resolute.
     “You will tell me,” the commandant told him. His voice was soft but his eyes were hard. “Everyone breaks in the end.”
     The man stared back defiantly.
     Almost in slow motion, the commandant removed his pistol from its holster and, with careless ease, put a bullet through the other shoulder. Stepping back, his eyes displayed the perverse pleasure he took in his handiwork.
     Leaning against the wall, the commandant waited for the man to break. When he didn’t, he muttered something that Batyr didn’t catch, and one of the soldiers disappeared through the door and across the compound. The commandant waited in silence until he returned a minute or two later. Placing a petrol can just inside the room, the soldier handed over a white, plastic container. The commandant extracted a small canister, like a miniature fly spray, and held it out for his victim to see. His next words were softly spoken, like parents talking at night trying not to wake their children.
     “Let me explain how this works. This can is filled with liquid nitrogen. Applied to your eyes, it will take twenty seconds to freeze the eyeball so that it blisters and cracks. Do you get the picture?” His lips curled into a sick smile.
     The man shook his head violently and struggled to lean back. Two soldiers sprang forward to clamp down the chair.
     “Fix his eyes,” the commandant ordered, tossing over a roll of tape.
     One of the soldiers prised open the man’s eyelids while the other fastened them in place with the tape.
     “Your last chance,” the commandant warned.

Corruption of Power
Available Mon 14 December 2015!

UK: purchase from Amazon.co.uk US: purchase from Amazon.com find on Goodreads

The Series: Alex Leksin

All books can be read as stand-alone novels.

Click on the book cover to Look Inside the book on Amazon and read an excerpt.

The Oligarch [1]

*FREE on Kindle unlimited and Kindle Owner Lending Library*

As the President takes on the power of the oligarchs, the battle for Russia begins . . . .

Following his controversial election for a third term amid widespread protests and allegations of vote rigging, the Russian President is determined to destroy the oligarchs before they destroy him.

When the global economic meltdown decimates their wealth, the President seizes this chance to demolish their power base. His greatest opponent - Anton Blok, owner of the mighty Tyndersk Kombinat - has a secret agenda and faces far more than just financial ruin as his empire threatens to fall apart, and the President knows that his old enemy will stop at nothing to avoid catastrophe.

With battlelines drawn, he turns to Alex Leksin, an independent troubleshooter, to thwart Blok's plans.

Against the challenge of hostile Arctic conditions, Leksin must tread a dangerous path through a labyrinth of corruption, terrorism and obfuscation until the exciting and unexpected denouement takes place in Russia’s northernmost seaport. Set in Moscow, Ingushetia (Chechnya’s neighbour), and Tyndersk, a Siberian mining town inside the Arctic Circle and geographically cut off from the rest of Russia, the plot twists and turns within an authentic and disturbing background.

[Published April 2012, 237 pages]

Excerpt

Prologue

      Upright in the backseat, the FSB officer waited for the Range Rover to glide to a halt outside the battlemented walls of Novodevichy Convent. Founded in 1524 as a place of exile for high-ranking women in disfavour, its cluster of onion-domed churches had served as a barracks for Napoleon during the occupation of Moscow and as warehouses during the Soviet era. Now, once again, the complex functioned as a place of worship.
      The officer climbed out, hunching his heavy overcoat tightly around him, and strode briskly down to the pond by the side of the monastery. A woman sat on a bench, huddled from the cold, faceless in the flower-patterned shawl that wrapped her head and shoulders. Her fingers worked the beads of a wooden rosary as she stared out over the frozen stretch of water. Sitting down next to her, he placed a cassette player the size of a pack of cards between them and pressed ‘Play’.
      “The rebels have been biding their time, waiting for the right moment,” the voice grated, coarse as gravel, too loud in the stillness that surrounded them. The FSB man reached down to adjust the volume. “But now they’re ready for the off.”
      “That’s him, Ramaz, the informant,” he filled her in through tight lips.
      The woman slid her hand over to stop the machine. “What’s behind this?” she pressed, her voice low in the frosty air. She paused, as her fingers continued to flick the smooth beads. “He’s from Ingushetia himself. You’d think he’d be all for his own country grabbing the chance of independence?”
      “Money, of course – and his own self-interest,” the FSB man replied, his eyes trained on the rutted grey ice of the pond before them. “Ramaz has always spoken out against the separatists loud and clear. His fortune’s here in Russia. Billions of it - and he’s all too aware that a revolt in Ingushetia would risk the same backlash the Chechen businessmen got a few years back. If that happened, he’d lose the lot.”
      “So whose feeding him his inside information?”
      The officer shrugged. “We don’t know, but you’re right to ask – it’s a priority to find out. The Ingush in Moscow are a pretty tight-knit bunch, but we’d gone out of our way to ensure Ramaz was kept in the dark. We must assume we have a mole somewhere.”
      The woman restarted the tape.
      “But where’s the money coming from?” a second voice interjected. Again, it was a man’s voice, but lighter toned. He spoke in Russian, but with a strong American accent. “Ingushetia itself doesn’t have the resources to take on Russia.”
      “Of course not,” the rougher voice scoffed. “Blok’s dealing with that angle himself through his Tyndersk connection.”
      “Who’s the foreigner he’s talking to?” the woman asked.
      “We’re working on that too,” the FSB man replied.
      Pocketing the cassette player, he stood up. “Your job is to take Ramaz out. No need for subtlety. We need to make an example.”
      The woman’s hand clenched on the rosary as he walked away, and the quiet clicking of the beads stopped. Almost on cue, the bells on the nearest tower swung into action, spilling their discordant jangle into the cold and hovering mist as she watched him leave.
      **************
      Outside the pristine grandeur of the National Hotel demonstrators swarmed in untidy hordes. The roads had been closed off to traffic since dawn in anticipation of the influx of protesters, and many thousands had converged on central Moscow, cramming the wide avenue from pavement to pavement. Nearby, from the Tverskaya metro entrance, a steady stream augmented the main throng, pressing towards Red Square where the rally’s official start was due to get underway in less than an hour.
      Nadia fought her way against the flow and entered the hotel. Glancing fleetingly back at Murat, her accomplice, who carried a briefcase a few paces behind her, she nodded almost imperceptibly. Inside, two security guards stationed behind a table stopped people for random checks. As she approached, she tripped, tumbling over in front of them. With her skirt hiked up enough to be interesting, she winced and clutched her ankle. The two guards rushed to help her to a chair, and Murat slipped quietly past.
      A few moments later, she rose to her feet, aided by the guards, and hobbled across the foyer to the lifts. Murat awaited her on the fourteenth floor, and together they made their way through the labyrinth of corridors to Suite 1493. Nadia knocked on the door. As expected, there was no answer. Murat ran a card through the reader and the door clicked open.
      The two of them had studied the layout in advance and each knew their role to the last detail. Quickly they headed for Ramaz’s office.
      ***************
      Outside the National, the demonstrators still surged relentlessly towards Red Square. Nadia threaded her way through into the Manezh gardens until she reached the shelter of the Kremlin’s outer walls. In the grand scheme of things the problems facing oligarchs like Blok and Ramaz ranked pretty low on the scale, she reflected, looking out over the massed banners that stretched as far as the Kremlin walls and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the current economic meltdown no economy had been more devastated than Russia’s. Protest
      Murat wrestled through the crowd to join her.
      “Ramaz has just gone in,” he murmured in her ear. “Should reach his office any moment now.”
      An instant later, Nadia felt the air shake around her from the force of the explosion, and glanced back towards the National. Glass and masonry rained down on the crowd, which for a split-second froze, uncomprehending. Then the screaming started. Hemmed in on all sides by the weight of numbers, few could reach cover. Their panic escalated as beneath their feet blood tainted the snow.
      Silent among the screams, Nadia saw a child in a yellow knitted hat clutching his mother’s hand, severed from her arm by a falling shard of glass. Transfixed, he stared down at her body bent double at his feet.
      Nadia turned away. One hand reflexively traced the contours of the scar on her cheek as she tried to block out the wails of the injured and grieving. Why did her victims always include the innocent, each time caught in the fall-out of her actions?
      She looked back as the smoke cleared. Murat touched her arm and pointed to where, high in the hotel’s shattered frontage, a crater gaped as big as a car. Reluctantly Nadia glanced up and then looked at him. She nodded slightly, with no hint of satisfaction.
      Yes, Murat, another job well done.  

About the Author

George Eccles, writing as G W Eccles, graduated from the London School of Economics with a law degree and subsequently became a partner in one of the major international financial advisory firms.

In 1994, George left London to move to Russia and Central Asia during the tumultuous period that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. His work involved extensive travel throughout Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - often to places with restricted access to foreigners. During his time there, he advised a number of real-life oligarchs how best to take advantage of the opportunities that became available as regulation crumbled and government became increasingly corrupt. Against this background, while his novels are fiction, many of the anecdotes and scenes are inspired by actual events.

His first thriller: The Oligarch, was awarded a Silver Medal both at the Global E-book Awards 2013 and at the Independent Publishers Book Awards 2013, as well as being selected as IPPY Book of the Day.

George is married and now lives with his wife in a hilltop village not far from Cannes in the South of France.

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