Read an excerpt from “The Half-Life of Valery K” by Natasha Pulley

Based on real events in a surreal Soviet city and told with the inimitable style of Natasha Pulley, The Rust Country is a radical new adventure for readers of Stuart Turton and Sarah Gailey.

Plot ? Good reading to discover the synopsis and an excerpt from the second chapter of The half-life of Valery Kcoming out July 26, 2022!

In 1963, in a Siberian gulag, former nuclear specialist Valery Kolkhanov mastered what it takes to survive: the right contacts with guards for access to food and cigarettes, the right pair of warm boots for avoid frostbite and the right attitude towards the little pleasures of life so as not to go crazy. But on an ordinary day, all that changes: Valery’s college mentor steps in and sweeps Valery from the frozen prison camp to a mysterious unnamed town that houses a set of nuclear reactors and is surrounded by a forest so damaged it looks like the trees have rusted from within.

In City 40, Valery is once again Dr. Kolkhanov, and he should serve his prison sentence by studying the effect of radiation on local animals. But as Valéry begins his work, he is struck by the questions raised by his research: why is there so much radiation in this area? What exactly is hidden from the thousands of people who live in the city? And if he continues to search for answers, will he live to serve his sentence?


Sverdlovsk was an ugly industrial city. Outside the airport, it was so hot that misty rain glistened on the steps, lampposts and cab hoods. You didn’t even need a coat. He was watching the film of water moving under someone’s windshield wipers when the KGB lady hailed a taxi and got him into it.

Immediately, Valery was enveloped in the glorious smell of hot leather and vodka, and what must have been a dab of furniture polish inside the radiator. He moved along the back seat out of the seat, but she didn’t get in; she was going to Moscow. Valery turned around, taken completely by surprise. Wherever he went, it was not common practice for the KGB to leave a prisoner alone with a random taxi driver.

Again he wanted to ask what was going on; but if she slammed her fingers in the door, her bones would turn to powder.

She closed the door and knocked on the roof. The driver left.

Maybe the driver wasn’t just a taxi driver. But none of the doors were locked. Valery could just jump at traffic lights. There was a red post outside the airport. He could get out and walk away. Maybe the driver could shoot him, but maybe not. He touched the doorknob, his fingertips aching with potential. go out and go where, without money and without other clothes? It was warmer here than in Siberia, but it still wasn’t hot. Sleeping outside would be dangerous. But maybe that would be better than wherever he was going now. He couldn’t think straight. It was a shock. He had wondered this morning – Jesus Christ, only this morning – how much his spirit had dissolved lately, but he didn’t know it was that bad. He felt paralyzed.

The lights have changed. The driver fled. He was one of those people who clearly felt that the accelerator should remain intact or on the ground. Then they were going forty kilometers an hour, and jumping would have broken every bone in Valery’s body.

Valery found courage. There was no trace of a firearm. It was possible that the man was not KgB. ‘Where are we going?’ he tried.

“I can’t tell you yet,” the driver said, not in a hostile manner. “Sit down, it’ll take about an hour.”

Valery nodded slowly. There were no more traffic lights. The steel giants that were the factories of Sverdlovsk passed, and soon the car passed the city limits. After that, it was miles of straight road, occasionally punctuated by other factory towns whose white towers and gridded streets looked like they had come from identical prefab kits. The roar of the taxi engine died down and he fell asleep, his head leaning against the window. There was a bottle of vodka in the front passenger seat, already three-quarters empty. It made a chattering slapping sound every time they went over a bump in the road.

He woke up because the taxi had accelerated. He pushed him back against the seat, then threw him forward as the driver shifted gears. Confused, he looked behind them, then jumped when the driver snapped his fingers at him. The man said nothing, but he pointed to a sign that was coming fast now.

CAUTION: DO NOT STOP DURING THE FOLLOWING 30KM. PROCEED AT THE FASTEST SPEED POSSIBLE FOR YOUR VEHICLE.

They passed by at eighty kilometers an hour.

“Because of the poison in the ground,” said the driver.

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Valery didn’t know what to say to that.

To their left now stood the skeletons of burnt houses. The roofs were just blackened sticks, and all that remained of the structures were the stone chimneys. Chimney after chimney, arranged at an angle to each other. Houses would have been widely spaced, with large gardens – for crops perhaps, and animals. grass and weeds clung to the ruins. in a few years they would cover them, and no one passing by would know what those oddly shaped hills were.

“It was a bomb,” the driver told her. “You know, an atomic bomb, Americans. Everything destroyed. A whole night. Boom.’

Valery looked up. “This damage is too extensive for a bomb.”

“Why are the houses burned down then?

“I don’t know,” he said sadly. To the right a blasted church hovered, shreds of gold still glittering on its broken domes. Beyond was an old brick factory, the rafters running through the roof like ribs.

‘I tell you. Bomb.’ The conductor sounded like a bomb and opened his hand to draw a mushroom cloud. ‘Yeah. We are entering good rust country now.

Valery wondered what that meant.

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