History’s Mystery – The Romanovs

If you’re a history’s mysteries lover like me then you’ll love Glenn Meade’s new book The Romanov Conspiracy: A Thriller.  Using real life characters and circumstances Meade weaves a tell that gives form to one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century – the mass execution of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II and his family including all of his children as well as two servants and a family physician by Bolshevik revolutionaries following the end of WWI.


Russian Tsar Nicholas II and Family

Meade employs known historical figures like Walter Hines Page, U.S. ambassador to Great Britain during WWI and Russian-American aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky, along with lesser knowns like Irish-Canadian Joe Boyle, considered to be “one of Canada’s genuine but little known heroes” and Lydia Ryan, a Irish gun runner during the Irish rebellion of 1916, a real life character that results from Meade’s research of her remaining family in Kentucky.

The book revolves around efforts by Boyle’s Russian spy network, known as The Brotherhood who identified themselves with a backwards swastika, in conjunction with Lydia Ryan and a former Russian officer in the Tsar’s army to rescue the Tsar and his family from the Bolsheviks before they carry out their nefarious act.  We of course know they don’t succeed but the story is so masterly woven with events that were unfolding in Russia at the time that you can’t help but get caught up with the doomed effort and it’s heroic characters.  It a true page-turner until the very end.

One of the aspects of the book that I found so compelling is the tale of Anastasia’s survival.  Russian records have always claimed to have found the bones of the entire Romanov family but experts who have studied the evidence raise serious questions as to the veracity of their claims concerning the bones of Anastasia.  Meade’s use of the fictional Dr. Laura Pavlov who has been on a quest to discover the many missing details in the death of the Romanovs leads her to the son of two of our main characters, Lydia Ryan and her Russian lover, a former officer in the White Russian army, Uri Andrev who were both involved in the attempt to rescue the Romanovs.  Having gotten to the execution site just moments after the slaughter, in the confusion, they and others were able to able to whisk off a barely alive Anastasia through hidden tunnels of the Ipatiev House where the Romanovs were being held.  Below is some early video footage of this dark abode with accompanying music that is foreboding and ends with a girl’s high pitched scream evoking the horror that Anastasia and her sisters were confronted with.

Near the end of the book, when Dr. Pavlov questions the son of Uri Andrev and Lydia Ryan as to how Anastasia was able to avoid being detected by “some of the best legal minds in the world, as well as the most experienced investigators and journalists” of that time, he conveys this probable scenario.

“After Anastasia escaped, the Brotherhood was fearful the Cheka [the much feared Bolshevik secret police] would learn the truth and hunt her down.  So one of their members, a psychiatrist, came up with a simple but brilliant plan.  What if they had a substitute, someone expendable they could pretend was Anastasia?  That way, if anyone tried to kill her, the real Anastasia would be safe.

It took many months of scouring the mental hospitals of Europe, until finally they settled on a suitable candidate.  The woman the world eventually came to know as Anna Anderson.   She matched their criteria in terms of looks, and certain bodily features, like her ears and feet, that she shared with Anastasia.

Scars were deliberately inflicted on her skull during surgery, to be consistent with wounds Anastasia suffered at the hands of the Bolsheviks.  After that it was a case of making an impressionable, mentally ill woman believe that she was Anastasia Romanov.  Their deception began with Anna Anderson’s supposed suicide attempt in a Berlin canal and her amazing story was born.

anastasiaromanov circa 1917  annaanderson circa 1923

(top)Anastasia  circa 1917       (bottom)Anna Anderson circa 1923

The narrative insists this is a likely scenario concerning Anna Anderson because how else could a simple, mentally disturbed patient “have challenged and confounded some of the best legal minds in the world, as well as the most experienced investigators and journalists, for six decades, if not with the help of the Brotherhood” who knew the real Anastasia in minute detail.   It is also likely that “many of the former Russian nobility who sheltered her during her life were part of the deception”

Later in the narrative we discover that the real Anastasia was likely to be living secretively in some remote location.  A picture is revealed of a young woman sometime in the 1920’s, “seated in the stern of a small boat that was tied up to a wooden promenade.  In the background was a wide river or lake, with thick forest on the far bank.

The young woman looked not unlike Anna Anderson, with the same facial shape and strong features.  Her eyes looked bright but she wasn’t smiling, a kind of detached calm about here.  On the back of the picture written in blue ink it said in English, ‘With deepest gratitude.  To a man of great courage and compassion.  Bless you always.’”

The boat she was sitting in had the name of St. Michael written on the stern, Anastasia’s favorite saint.  The picture had at one time been the property of Joe Boyle who died an untimely death in 1923.

Meade is clear in his story that the real life strands he has put together do not prove absolutely that the conveyed events were what actually took place nearly a century ago.  But with no real proof of what followed the events after the Tsar and his family were murdered by the Reds, it has the appeal of being likely, simply because as the fictional  Dr. Laura Pavlov’s character intimates in the book, we want to believe that Anastasia survived.

I haven’t read a thriller like this in some time and with historical context that is familiar to me.  I promise you won’t be disappointed with it and suspect like me that once you get into the parts where time is winding down to accomplish the failed rescue effort, you won’t be able to put the book down until you’ve completed it.  It’s a keeper.

6 responses to “History’s Mystery – The Romanovs

    • Actually it’s is much better than my small commentary attempts to describe. I needed a break from non-fiction but not some unpalatable fantasy. This book fit that need to a tee.

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