Stalin's Russia of 1936 is an unforgiving place challenged by shortages of food, clothing and housing. Under the dictator's policies, each person lives in fear of being reported as disloyal.

An offhand comment, the slightest action or a feud with a neighbor could result in prison or worse during Stalin's "Great Purge."

Details such as those make "The Holy Thief," British author William Ryan's atmospheric debut, one of the year's most exciting.

Behind the politics, "The Holy Thief" shows a man with his own convictions in a society that values nothing.

"The Holy Thief" will appeal even to those who know nothing about Stalin's Russia.

Oline H. Cogdill, MCT News Service