The Man from St Petersburg

The Man from St Petersburg

The Man from St Petersburg

1982 | Thriller | 480 pages

The Man From St Petersburg is a dark tale of family secrets and political consequences. Ken Follett’s masterful storytelling brings to life the danger of a world on the brink of war.

A Secret Negotiation
1914. Tensions are rising as Europe finds itself caught in a web of alliances and dangerous warmongering. To help tip the balance in their favour Britain aims to draw Russia into an alliance with them instead of Germany. Czar Nicholas’s nephew, Prince Aleksei, is sent to London for secret naval talks with Lord Walden.
A Play for Power
Walden has a personal connection to Aleksei; his wife Lydia, is Aleksei’s aunt. But they are not the only ones interested in his arrival, including Walden’s daughter Charlotte, wilful, idealistic and with an awakening social conscience, Basil Thompson, head of Special Branch, and Felix Kschessinky, a ruthless Russian anarchist.
A World at War
With the British desperately needing a signed treaty and the fate of the world hanging in the balance, the destinies of these characters become inextricably linked as the final private tragedy which threatens to shatter the Waldens’ complacency is acted out.
First chapter

It was a slow Sunday afternoon, the kind Walden loved. He stood at an open window and looked across the park. The broad, level lawn was dotted with mature trees: a Scots pine, a pair of mighty oaks, several chestnuts, and a willow like head of girlish curls. The sun was high and the trees cast dark, cool shadows. The birds were silent, but a hum of contented bees came from the flowering creeper beside the window. The house was still, too. Most of the servants had the afternoon off. The only weekend guests were Walden’s brother George, George’s wife Clarissa, and their children. Continue reading

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.


“Ken Follett has done it once more . . . goes down with the ease and impact of a well-prepared martini.” – The New York Times Book Review


“Eerily plausible . . . one of Follett’s finest.” – Time


“A grabber with a pace that never flags.” – Cosmopolitan


“Builds with such intensity that your heart races with pounding anticipation and sticks in your throat as the climactic moments near.” – Chattanooga Times-Free Press