Finished: Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi, 2007. 9780805082548.
Very good. One of the better books I have read in a while. On par with, and felt similar to, L.A. Rex by Will Beall. Bill Crider said, "Dance Monkey!" So I did.
Volk is a former Russian special forces soldier who served in Chechnya for two years. Volk lost part of one leg from the calf down and is now a gangster in Moscow. Volk's girlfriend and co-worker Valya is an 18 year old Chechen who somehow hooked up with Volk while in Chechnya. Both Volk and Valya are brutal and pitiless after the horrors of the war and Volk trades in anything except children younger than 14.
Turns out Volk is more than just a low-level mob boss. He is a Colonel in the army and indebted to and reports to The General who uses him as a funding source. Volk also works under the permission of mob boss Maxim. Maxim has unusual influence in the Kremlin, so much so he might as well have a job title there.
Volk ends up in a byzantine plot to steal a long-lost da Vinci painting from a St. Petersburg museum. Both the General and Maxim are pulling strings aside the competing interests of a Kremlin politician and the Russian intelligence service, FSB. Volk has to steal the painting and then save his own skin, as well as a kidnapped Valya, when the painting is stolen from him.
Ghelfi does a fantastic job with the Moscow and St. Petersburg settings and in portraying the culture and politics of modern Russia. Volk is a good character and Ghelfi gives just enough info throughout the book to let you try and understand him. The intricate plot with intersecting love lives and betrayals reminded me of James Ellroy.