Red Notice and Freezing Order by Bill Browder (Transworld, £9.95 and Simon & Schuster, £16.59).

There are books that you review out of a sense of timely relevance. They arrive in your hand ahead of the publishing date and it feels worthwhile writing your impressions before the rest of the world gets a chance to pass judgement. Rarely do books come along where you feel compelled to review them a long time after they’ve been in and out of the charts. Yet that’s exactly what happened with Red Notice, Bill Browder’s memoir about corruption in Russia and becoming Putin’s number one enemy, and its sequel, Freezing Order.

Browder has written two books that are peerless when it comes to providing unexpected context to what’s been happening over the past decade or so. As a result, this isn’t so much of a review as a heads-up to go read these books. Given recent events, highlighting the extent of Russia’s malign influence in the West, Browder’s story is particularly deep with context around the rise of Trump and the troubling longevity of Putin.

Browder is a hugely personable narrator and his very readable story is a morality tale with an arc that veers towards goodness. Browder, the grandson of Earl Browder, head of the American Communist Party from 1930 to 1945 (and who would later run for president), comes from a family of highly accomplished mathematicians. Seeking to make his own way in life, the young Browder was drawn to the world of investment and, inside this niche, investment in Eastern Europe and the then emerging market of Boris Yeltsin’s Russia.

The story begins, then, as one of huge ambition and even bigger opportunity. Yet from the start, Browder’s excitement is tempered, in the reader’s eye at least, by a moral complexity. That morality perhaps becomes easier to discern once Browder is exposed to the true nature of Russian criminality but, starting out, he never quite touches on the West’s culpability in what happened in Russia. Browder went to Russia to exploit the opportunities available as Yeltsin’s government attempted a naïve emulation of capitalism. Were he and other Western capitalists right to buy stock so hugely undervalued that they could make hundredfold profits? Amid the excitement of many millions being made for relatively small investments, those profits were taken from the pockets of ordinary Russians, too impoverished to exploit the sale of their nation’s resources.

It is a question that neither book really answers but perhaps it’s understandably beyond their scope. Bill Browder was just one of the first in the West to recognise the investment opportunities but to also understand how the kleptocracy operated. The story isn’t really about his success growing his investment fund, Hermitage Capital, or even the fascinating insight into London’s investment scene (including the time Browder worked for Robert Maxwell) as much as what came later as Browder’s success meant he crossed the emerging oligarchs and Russia’s new president, Vladimir Putin.

Red Notice deals with the events of Browder’s early career but it slowly morphs into something more important. It evolves into a story about the murder of Browder’s Russian tax advisor, Sergei Magnitsky, brutally killed after months of torture inside Putin’s prisons, and then Browder’s work to get the US Congress to pass the legislation that would become known as the Magnitsky Act. The act would allow US officials to seize the assets of Russian criminals, as well as ban them from travelling to the country. It infuriated Moscow, leading Putin to impose his own punishment on America, banning the adoption of Russian children by families in the US (the children, very often, were suffering from life-threatening conditions and disabilities making them tragically vulnerable to the sanction). The two subjects are now synonymous, which can be a bit confusing until you understand the close link.

The books are layered with nuanced morality. Browder’s work made him subject to attempts by the Russian government to prosecute him and much of the book details the way his enemies weaponised the Western systems of justice. The title of the book, Red Notice, refers to Interpol’s system of arrest warrants, which Russia used on multiple occasions to attempt to get Browder extradited.

One of the key themes of the book, perhaps most significant for a British reader, is the general inability of the British government to do the right thing. While America’s Congress was filled with people willing to stand up to Russia — with the late senator John McCain once again proving himself as one of the sorely missed good guys — if there’s an actor certain to let down the side, it’s going to come in the form of an official at the British Foreign Office, Home Office, or our Embassy in Moscow. The levels of indifference displayed by British authorities to the criminality being exposed by Browder and his colleagues is shameful.

The sequel, Freezing Order, was only published in April this year and brings the story up to date, with Browder’s continued efforts to find further justice for his former associate. Really, they could be considered one book, except, if the first volume is an example of a fast-paced story, most of which you might not know, the second book doesn’t have quite as strong a through-narrative. But Freezing Order does give a broader context for the events around the US 2016 election and Trump’s posture towards Russia.

There might well be better books out there dealing with the network of money laundering, Russian oligarchs, and the shady world of high finance (Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland and Butler to the World being the obvious comparisons), but it’s hard to imagine a better one done in Bill Browder’s way. The author manages to wrap big themes within a very personal story, establishing a contrast with the scale of corruption, the struggles people face in combating corruption, as well as the incentives that have led powerful people in capitals across the world to look the other way for so long.

The fact that this review comes sometime after the book’s publication should make it obvious that, for this reader at least, they come highly recommended.