These Are the Names comprises two ultimately converging story lines, set against the background of the raggedy edges of the former Soviet Union. In roughly alternating chapters, the novel introduces us to protagonist Pontus Beg - police commissioner in a large but apparently fictional Russian city - and then to a group of refugees - mostly in the person of "the boy" - as they make their way across the steppes in the heart of winter. Beg is a marred but sensible man, troubled by the onslaughts of age, attached to his creature comforts...a reluctant detective who shies away neither from kickbacks nor from allowing his hot temper to get in the way of his better judgment. It is Beg who in many ways drives the novel; we meet him just as he is on the verge of an important discovery about his own origins. The illegal aliens have been dropped on the steppes by an Eastern European version of a 'coyote', and are dragging themselves towards the fata morgana of the West. Their journey is a 'thicket of terrors'; the climate is a monster intent on devouring them alive, the journey is one of attrition; the dying fall and are stripped of their belongings before death even comes, and in the course of that journey the members of the group come close to and even pass that nubbin of humanity that separates them from the beast. When the group finally arrives on Pontus Beg's turf, emaciated and feral, the lives of the police commissioner and the boy cross in a significant way. When the police find evidence of a murder in the refugees' baggage, however, Beg becomes the group's inquisitor...and finally something very like their savior. Characterization is the key here: it is the skill with which Wieringa keeps Pontus Beg's quest for his own background suspended in space, it is Beg's likeability as a character and his dry-eyed musings considering the nature of religion that keep the reader pinned to the page from the start. At the same time, the apocalyptic atmosphere of the group's exodus across the steppes becomes increasingly vivid and laden with meaning as the novel proceeds, in seeming synchronicity with the development of Beg's character. In the hands of a lesser novelist, These Are the Names could have become a Martin Beck imitation or a Dutch version of McCarthy's The Road. But this, Tommy Wieringa's latest, is infinitely more than that.