Travel books bring vicarious excitement, enabling you to go places without packing suitcases or applying for visas, but you still have to decide on a route. You can choose Bill Bryson’s trail and laugh the entire way, or you can take one of Jeffrey Tayler’s daring paths, which sting the nostrils and chill the soul. Whether crossing the Sahara (in “Angry Wind”) or rafting down Siberia’s Lena River (in “River of No Reprieve”), Tayler does not see the mirth in faraway places so much as he sees the horror—and the glory—in them.
“Murderers in Mausoleums,” his sixth book, is unmistakably Tayler. He travels from Moscow to Beijing, passing through the Kalashnikov-littered Caucasus Mountains and energy-rich Central Asia. Corrupt cops, insolent officials, pop-crazed kids and populations seething with frustration line the route. It is little wonder that democracy has failed to take hold here, he muses: This land belonged to some of the bloodiest tyrants in history—Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong—and their authoritarian traditions live on.