I saw a few negative reviews of this book before I started reading it, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway, and I am glad I did. Paulo Coelho like Dan Brown is a guilty pleasure for me, I know they are not great writers but they can tell a story, albeit with gaping holes in the plot. I have read several of Paulo Coelho’s books, I loved Veronika Decides to Die and 11 Minutes, but I hated The Valkyries , with Paulo Coelho, I’m never quite sure what to expect.
The Winner Stands Alone is set in the glittering world of the Cannes Film Festival. This book mixes the ennui of stardom (akin to a Sofia Coppola movie) with the mission of a Soviet tycoon eager to get his ex-wife back, through destroying worlds or killing people. The action takes place in less than 24 hours.
Igor, a veteran of the Afghan-Russian war, has made a fortune with a Russian Telecom business. He has no qualms about killing strangers to send a message to his ex-wife, in fact he sees himself on a holy mission blessed by St Mary Magdalene, whose relics he visited in Moscow. His victims are different, young, old, rich, poor, male , female…his modes of killing ingenious. Igor has a veritable arsenal of killing methods at his disposal, he is an expert in the Russian Martial Art strangely called “Sambo” (Samozashchita Bez Orujiya), meaning he can conveniently kill with his bare hands, also his contacts in the Chechen mafia can supply him with lethally exotic poisons in addition to the Beretta Px4 and stiletto knife, he is carrying. Igor’s methods could give a would-be assassin ideas, luckily curare is not readily available unless you happen to live in the South American rainforest, and you would need a good knowledge of human anatomy for some of the other methods he employs.
This is not a thriller or traditional crime novel. It relates the story of five individuals who are following their dreams of money, power or fame and the price they have to pay.
Aside from Igor, there is Hamid, a Middle Eastern fashion magnate, who is now with Igor’s ex-wife; American actress Gabriela, eager to land a leading role; ambitious criminal detective Savoy, who first notices that a serial killer might be loose in Cannes and Jasmine, a woman on the brink of a successful modeling career.
Coelho paints an interesting picture of this world of excess. No one is happy in this novel, despite all the smiles to camera, regardless of how famous they are or how much money they have. Cannes is littered with fading stars:”hearts full of bitterness, skin full of Botox“. Even those at the peak of their careers fear the inevitable descent.
My rating 4 out of 5