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The Man from St Petersburg

In 1914, Germany arms for war and the allies are preparing their defences. Both sides need Russia. The Earl of Walden and Winston Churchill plan a secret Russian alliance, but a man steals into England, intent on leaving his mark on history. Fate catches up with a beautiful woman, a young girl and a star-crossed lover, while the police close in on the man who might bring England to her knees.

Ken’s view

After two books about World War Two, my thoughts naturally moved to World War One. But it’s a gruesome war; nobody particularly feels that it was the good guys against the bad guys and, in retrospect, most of us think it was a war that didn’t need to be fought. So I decided to do an Edwardian thriller instead.

I remember writing a list of the elements: Russian anarchist, nitroglycerine bomb, incident at the Palace. It’s not a popular period for thriller writers because they like technology and fast communications, and there wasn’t much of that around during the Edwardian period. But I was able to work up a lot of suspense in The Man from St Petersburg.

One of the best scenes in the book is where the anarchist mixes the ingredients for nitroglycerine in the kitchen sink, knowing if he does it even slightly wrongly he’ll blow himself up – as many anarchists did. I went to a lot of trouble to research that scene. Then I realised that if I said exactly how the bomb was made, some dumb kid would probably try it in the chemistry lab at school. So I had to take out some of the details.

It’s quite a romantic book because the bad guy discovers that one of the people he is dealing with is his own daughter. That’s the kind of surprise that normally happens in a romance rather than a thriller, but it worked.

Listen to Ken’s view on The Man from St Petersburg


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  • “A superb thriller and a fine novel… He outclasses his competitors!” — Newsday
  • “Crackles with suspense… perhaps his greatest yet!” — San Diego Union

Published as

The Man from St Petersburg by Ken Follett, William Morrow, New York, 1982.

Also published in other languages, and available as an audiobook and as an ebook.