Originally Posted by Scepticalscribe
Okay, you mentioned Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and, as we have been discussing Russian history above, which is something of an interest of mine, let's start with some recommendations on that.
I have read almost all of his oeuvre (I gave up on the pretty tedious 'Red Wheel'), but some of his earlier stuff - above all, 'The First Circle', 'Cancer Ward' and - obviously - 'One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich' are outstandingly good; however, nobody could ever accuse Solzhenitsyn of being easy reading. His work 'The Gulag Archipelago' - which is superb - does not come under the heading of fiction, as it is starkly documented fact.
Now, speaking personally, I don't much like most of his later stuff; he lost the steely discipline which had ensured that he pruned his prose and kept things understated and leavened with bitter irony, rather than the bloated and openly nationalistic and somewhat nostalgic stuff he penned later on.
If you want stuff on Russia, exceptionally well observed, but seriously well written - which, at its best, is an example of simply superb, thriller type fiction, and which - classically uses the thriller & murder mystery format to dissect a culture and society (Russia in all of its changes over the past 40 years), - I cannot recommend Martin Cruz Smith's novels with his extraordinary creation, the Russian police officer, 'Arkady Renko', highly enough. 'Gorky Park' 'Polar Star', and 'Red Square' are the first three and take place - roughly - in the period from the late Brezhnev era (very late 70s) until the collapse of the communist regime in 1991.
Then, there are 'Havana Bay' - which I think is good, but not as good as the earlier novels, 'Wolves Eat Dogs' (set in Chernobyl, excellent), 'Stalin's Ghost' (absolutely superb), 'Three Stations' (the weakest in the entire series, in my view) and a stunning return to form with 'Tatiana', which is very loosely based on the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
If Russian history - or thrillers based in Russia don't grab you, let me know more about your tastes, and we'll see what we can come up with.