Don't be put off by the beginning of James Palmer's first book. After a creaky start, it gets very much better as the story develops. The same cannot be said of his subject. The bloody baron of the title was Roman von Ungern-Sternberg. It's not a name many of us will have heard before, although he did have a walk-on part in Peter Hopkirk's Setting the East Ablaze. But if there is any sense left in the book world, many more of us will know about him through this remarkably accomplished debut.
Ungern, as he was known, was a monster. Palmer uses that word advisedly for a man whose ideals led him to commit acts of savagery in a life that seems to foreshadow the arrival of the Nazis. Born in Austria to Estonian-German parents, who traced their bloodline back to the