White Blood by James Fleming
The son of an English father and Russian mother, Charlie Doig is a big man - big in stature and big in spirit. A naturalist, he roughs it around the world collecting birds and insects for museums. In 1914 he's on a mission for the Academy of Scientists in Russian Turkestan when war breaks out. His pay is stopped and his companion goes off to enlist. Doig, however, has no intention of volunteering to be killed. He returns to the Pink House, his family's home near Smolensk, and to the woman he loves, his cousin Elizaveta. At first the Pink House remains almost untouched by outside events, and the familiar ways continue as before. But imperial Russia is doomed and with it all the old certainties. When Elizaveta's fiance is assassinated, Charlie fulfils his greatest wish and himself takes her as his bride. The very next morning he finds two men, soldiers by the look of them, approaching the house through the falling snow. Against all his instincts, he gives them shelter. What follows is almost unbearable in its tension. Trapped by the snow with Doig and his new wife are a motley collection of old aristocrats, their servants and hangers-on - and the two soldiers, one of whom, Prokhor Glebov, Doig is convinced is a Bolshevik out to destroy them all. Beautifully written, by turns savage and tender, this compelling novel confirms James Fleming as one of the very best novelists we have.