Never the Last One: A Novel of Spetznaz


   R H Auslander uses his intimate knowledge of Russian Armed Forces, Russian culture and Russian history to give the reader a deep look in to Russia, her culture and her Spetznaz Regiments. The author’s deft hand and storytelling ability open to the reader a view of Russia few outside of Russia have seen in a gripping tale of war and romance wrapped in a vivid panorama of betrayal and treachery, love and honor, loyalty, faith and duty.

     With the clouds of war darkening the horizon for all to see, the story unfolds of Annya Dmitrovna, a beautiful Russian lady, and Starshi Sarjant Roman Ivan’vich, a foreign man, a professional soldier serving for Russia in 317 Independent Spetznaz Regiment. As their romance blossoms in to an understanding during a night of good food, good wine and animated conversation, the thought of war banished from their minds, Roman Ivan’vich is suddenly ordered at 01:00 in the morning to report to his regiment immediately.

     As the regiment gathers and moves to assembly and deployment, an ominous event portends trouble. As the war begins and the fighting progresses treachery rears its ugly head, a treachery and betrayal that goes to the very heights of power in Moskau, contrasting dramatically with the courage, honor and loyalty of the Spetznaz set in the mixture of east and west that is Russia and the unique culture of her Spetznaz, those warriors who are never defeated, who are Never The Last One.

Available in Epub, Mobi and PDF. Please select the version of PDF, Mobi or Epub you want in the ‘Add to cart’ box drop down section when ordering.

 Original publish date 10 June 2015. Page count 710.

I bought this novel for my grandfather as he is avid reader and here are his words after reading it:

"My dear grandson, It is almost midnight of Friday in Pretoria and I have just completed the book by Auslander re Spetnaz - Never the last one. There never was one dull page since I started reading it in London. I have always loved reading historical novels but never found one evoking such conflicting emotions and passions. You were always in my thoughts as I travelled the terrains of pure love, the abomination of human action emanating from defiling hatred and the adherence of the human spirit and mind to the true cause of the fatherland.

While I always understood the turbulence in your mind regarding the distortions and degradation we are exposed to daily in our society - it all becomes clear. I think of you and Sharon being modeled as Starsi Sargent and Annuska ( Annya ).

Thank you for this treasure of a book . Please convey my gratitude to your father for opening the book in my IPad library. Now I need to find something to make me sleep. Take care & kind regards. Your Grandfather"
All I can say is WOW! What an incredible story!
December 5, 2015
Read a article by R. H. Auslander on a web site. Was impressed enough to download a sample of this book. Now mind ya, the sample is almost 100 pages long. When I was done I HAD to purchase the whole book.
We have here a war story, lot’s of love story’s, that are not all syrupy, but real bondings during a very stressful time. Anyone who has been in a military conflict will recognize instantly the binding that occurs between fellow warriors, who become lifelong friends as a result of fighting together. The characters are very well developed to the point that it is easy to relate to their feelings.
As Mr. McCarthy said in his review, “Strange Russian humor that takes some time to appreciate.” Well as a person who has spent some time in Eastern Europe, (and I mean years) I have to agree. The book is written as one would expect from a person from Eastern Europe, but there is a catch to that, and that I will not reveal here. I also agree, that the tech and tactical are correct, so correct that it polishes the story with realism, so after finishing this wonderful tome I’m left to try to figure out what was fact, and what was fiction, as it is so spot on.
If historical military fiction, with ample backstabbing and deceit by those who should be on your side, and a book that may not be all that fictitious, you will be drawn in to this book and it will never let you down, and that is saying a lot for a 700+ page book.
By Babushka in Oz on December 30, 2015
In normal times I would not choose to read a book about war. However, the abnormal recent events in the Ukraine and Crimea bought war close to my head and heart. Auslander’s comments on a blog led me to his book.
‘Never the Last One’ is a page turner. It has all the elements of a Tolstoy novel: interesting characters; graphic battle scenes; good versus evil; humour and humanity; deception and corruption; greed and revenge; soul searching and spirituality; but above all, love of Motherland, and love for one another.
The plot flowed smoothly and moved at a steady pace. The characters were believable with interesting backstories and through their words and deeds, conveyed the sense of kinship that comes only from a terrible collective loss (war). Knowing that life is instantly perishable the characters beautifully portray how love is forged in the anvil of destruction. Auslander has really grasped the Russian character, especially Russian humour.
I have no military experience and the gut wrenching description of battle bought tears to my eyes.
I do have nursing experience and in the hospital scenes I could smell the blood and gore.
In passages where Annya Dmitrovna spoke and ‘saw’, I felt her heartbeat and constantly had goosebumps.
Auslander says the book is ‘fiction’ but for me it was a mirror, reflecting the real world events, especially the beautiful and poignant Post Scriptum.
Brilliant. I enjoyed this book immensely and can’t wait for the follow up.
I am from England, I live in Rostov with my wife. We were in USA for a few weeks and a friend of mine showed me this book he had found on a forum he reads. I read the first few pages of it and it looked like some kind of love story so I had my friend download it to my lap top for my wife. We got back to Rostov, went to Yalta for the holidays, my wife started to read the book and immediately called her best friend to come to her and read it together. In the end we had 5 Russian women and one Russian husband, an officer in the army, sitting around the kitchen table with two lap tops, a big dictionary and me for almost the entire two weeks of our holiday. I have to agree with the others who posted a review about this book, this is one grand novel. These women and the husband would read some pages and then discuss what was said, look up words in the lap top and hard dictionary and then ask me for verification and now they’ve got me writing a review with the four of them talking at the same time in to my ear.
I don’t know who this R H Auslander is but he certainly knows what he writes about. I am a veteran, long retired but I served in Asia back in the day and later as a training instructor. What this Mr. Auslander describes is perfect, spot on, for not only the planning leading up to a deployment but the actual deployment and then the fighting. The characters and a couple love affairs weave in and out of the story and just when you’ve forgotten about someone here they are again and tied neatly in to the story. The plots are the same, in and out but everything ties together smoothly.
The combat scenes are graphic but real, tactically and strategically correct and they do not ramble on to the point of being gratuitous. The hospital scenes are true to life in a combat zone and the language, well, that’s the way we soldiers talk to each other during an operation.
What looks like very stiff formal manners is the way many Russians speak, the very formal addressing in public. If this Mr. Auslander doesn’t live in Russia he certainly used to, you can’t get that knowledge of the culture and the Russian army without being around them for a long time.
Everything in this masterpiece of a book ties together in the last two chapters. The last few pages, well, let me just say that all five girls were crying their eyes out, even the officer, a colonel, had a tear in his eye, I don’t know if from happiness or sadness or both, but cry they all did. I’m going to read this book again but without a group of Russians asking a million questions.
I can’t put this review on the amazon book sight because I did not buy the book so I’m going to send it to Mr. Auslander personally. I give this book ten stars, not the only five that amazon has.
January 12, 2016
A Powerful and Moving Read
I truly cannot remember the last time I have read a book as good as Never the Last One. The book is filled with action, emotion, and suspense, on those merits alone I could recommend this book. However, that is not the only part that made this novel such a good read for me personally. The novel paints characters, atmosphere, and setting with the mastery of a true classic.
Auslander manages to create characters so realistic that there is almost an aspect of surrealness when reading the novel. The characters are very dynamic, showing many aspects of their own personality. All of this is captured with an intense realism. The best I can describe is that instead of getting to know the characters throughout the course of the novel, Auslander takes someone from the reader’s own experiences and plants them into the novel with their own unique and believeable backstory. I know and have met characters like Annya Dmitrovna and Father Mitrofan under different aliases and different backstories in my own life.
Never the Last One manages to capture a pure and undistorted image of the complex Russian identity and culture which is incredibly rare to find outside of the Russian world. As a Russian living outside of Russia, I could recommend this book just by how well it captures the culture and the character of Russia. Auslander is so meticulous in his writing as to include even those aspects that come in during everyday life there such as porridge being a staple in a Russian diet similar to how cereal with milk is a staple in an American diet.
The settings and locations in the novel are very well described. I can’t find a better way to phrase this than using a very cliched phrase uttered by many English teachers; “The reader feels like he steps into the shoes of the character.” Auslander’s eye for detail really stands out here. He goes on to even describe what some would probably even consider too much detail. It does not detract from Auslander’s masterful storytelling and in my humble opinion it only enhances the story, even the makes of cars, the styles of buildings, and other such details are not skipped over. All in all, the level of detail creates a unique atmosphere which Auslander uses skillfully in the novel.
This was a great book to read and I am recommending it to others, if you are looking for something new to read, I highly suggest this book. I am eagerly looking forward to Auslander’s next piece.
Wolfgang December 13, 2017

Not many books have touched me in recent times like this one. I was many times almost crying. As it is said: No one understands war, who was not fighting in war. And no one hates war more than a true warrior. But with this book some will understand what war really means and what it means to be a warrior on the side of truth. Most touched I was by the descriptions of Father Mitrofan and Father Sergei, the Warrior Priests, and by the other people that “see”. Some of that made my skin crawl. This is by the way something that I feel sometimes, when I go to Orthodox places: That there are people, that “see” me. I am more than 40 years now in a kind of spiritual nexus, and I have never felt this before. No place to hide anymore. Thank you very much, Auslander.
Frederick 29.04.18
I have finished Never The Last One and I have just read Sevastopol, The Third Defense. Thank you for sending me the copies of both books. I can honestly say these are some of the most beautifully crafted semi-fictional accounts concerning Russia, primarily written in English, that I have had the pleasure to read. Your understanding of the culture of Russia and Sevastopol could only come from someone who’s heart is close to them. Your love of the canine companion is also a recurring theme, which, having grown up with dogs all my life, I perfectly understand.
You also managed to convey the historical roots of Russia and the peninsula and the understanding of the ethnic Russian population has of this history very well, and it is clearly interwoven through both pieces of literature. This is especially important I think for an outsider looking in, as it really helps develop an understanding for tragic (and wonderful) events of 2014, and generally shoots the Western narratives about Russia full of holes.
Your clear understanding of military procedures raises some interesting questions about your past in my mind. That, or you have some truly extraordinary friends. Either way, I am not intending to pry (especially with today’s internet, straight out of 1984), although I do think you would be an interesting individual to meet.
All in all, it has been and is a pleasure to read your literature, Auslander. Don’t stop! If I could put this on amazon I’d give both books the full load, five stars.
December 10, 2017
I finished your book two weeks ago. I must say it was a very enjoyable and worth the long read. It is a very well written book. The characters are believable, the story is very easy to be drawn into, the details are very well researched. I found myself reading the book deep into the night. Your novel also elegantly captured the atmosphere of Russia at the time, everything was as I remember Russia in my earlier years. Overall, I loved how the story flowed and how easy the book felt to read. For the first time in a long time, I actually enjoyed reading! Of course, the ending made me grin. I must ask, was it written before February of 2014? Translated from Russian by CEE.

Author’s reply: “Yes, the Post Scriptum was written in summer 2013.”
Interesting to get a viewpoint that is not coming from the typical "western" point of view. Although I have been aware if this myself, it is encouraging to see in print that, contrary to the belief that western governments would have everyone subscribe to, Russia is not the "Godless" communist country a lot of people think it is. It instead has a Christian community presence far greater than the west does.
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She rose early, why she did not know, actually she had hardly slept at all. As she left the flat to walk the first pair of dogs she absent mindedly turned on the TV. The news came on as she took her cell phone and left to walk Par and his wife. The predawn was warm and soft, the moon bright, the few street lights cast a gentle glow, a mist in some areas forming a soft and delicate golden halo around the lights. The smell of spring flowers was in the air, the earthy scent of damp soil and wet grass adding to the ambiance of the early morning. She smiled for a moment, watching her huge red/mahogany collie Par gently nuzzle his wife Darya before continuing with his swaying gait, his long hair flowing side to side, his chest ruff narrow and brilliant white. Darya followed behind him faithfully, trotting from time to time as Annushka gave her more leash to keep up with Par, Darya’s coal black hair blending with the night, just the white of her shoulder mane showing where she was.

She smiled to herself. ‘If only my Roma was here, it would be so romantic to walk with him in this dawn. Par and Darya are so tender this morning, the world is quiet, so beautiful, so peaceful.’ She remembered the first time she saw her Roma, remembered his average looks, his very polite demeanor, his stocky and strong build, and she remembered the first time she looked in his eyes. She knew now that in her subconscious at that moment she knew she would marry this man. She sighed happily and smiled again.

There were no cars out except one tired old Militsiya Lada. The car slowed as it passed her, the Sarjant in the right front looking at her, recognizing her and calling a quite greeting which she returned with a wave. Nothing else, not a soul, was around.

'Where is my Roma? Why isn’t he here to enjoy this beautiful and gentle night with me? What is he doing now? I knew, I knew the moment I saw our guard come in to the restaurant, the moment I saw his face, I knew my Roma was going to war. I know he has his duty just as I know it is my duty to support him, to send him to his service with no worries of me, it is my duty to tell him to be brave, to serve us faithfully, to make me, to make us, proud of him. But I worry, I am so frightened for him. What if he is wounded, what if he doesn’t return, what if I never hear of him again?'

A single tear started its journey down her delicate Turkoman face as she thought, her deep brown eyes misting over.

'I swore I would never let a man in to my heart again. My husband died two weeks after we married when I was 18 and he was but 20. Never again would I have the heartbreak of that. Never. And then the Madame Polkovnik, my dear friend, the loving mother I never had, introduced me to my Roma these many years later. I swore I would not let him in, I swore I would not love him when I let him in, I swore I would not lose him when I fell in love with him. Now my Roma is gone, off to another war. When will it end, when will our men be allowed to stay with us and not go off fighting in some soon to be forgotten dark corner of this vast land?'

She walked, Par and Darya staying close to her now, sensing her troubled mind, Darya staying so close to her they touched.

'I was so happy when my Roma’s two letters arrived. The young Lutanant, not much more than a child in uniform, blushed when he handed them to me at my flat door, saying before I could ask ‘Please ask me no questions, Madame Starshi Sarjant, I cannot tell you anything.’ I smiled at him and thanked him for the letters, and I told him I know, I know I can ask nothing about my Roma or his Regiment or the coming war. He smiled and left. In the morning I will go to Church, I will speak to Father Piotr’s assistant Natalya, his aid, she who in reality runs the Church, I will have prayers said by Father Piotr for my Roma and his men, his Regiment. In his second letter my Roma gave me the name and phone number of the mother of a young Medical Sister he met. While I am worried of my Roma, poor Sophia is frantic with worry and fear of her daughter. She lives not far from my flat here in Odessa, and I know the Madame Polkovnik will also come to me, we will go to Church together to offer our prayers.'

Annushka walked, silently enjoying the early predawn ambiance. She thought. 'Another block to the park. I will slip their leashes and let them run and play for a bit, then back to the flat to walk the other pair. It will be good for them to run. No one is out, we are alone, no one will be worried about the dogs, the dogs can run and play as they want. How I wish my Roma was here. Par so liked him when I introduced them in Moscow, my Roma and he were instant friends.' She glanced at her watch. It was 03:30.

Suddenly Par went on point, uttering a deep, long low growl with bared fangs, his hackles and brilliant white ruff flaring, looking straight east where the first delicate softening of the night sky on the far horizon told where dawn would break. Annushka instantly grabbed her little canister of Mace, defense against both stray dogs and stray people, and wrapped his leash around her hand. Par was not pulling and spoiling for a fight as usual, all he did was stand and look east where the sun would rise and continue to growl with bared fangs and ears back, a deep, wet guttural growl she’d never heard before. He stopped growling and looked at her, starting to whine. He came a step towards her, ears up, whined again and looked east. Darya began to get nervous, also whining and looking east, ears up and listening. ‘What do they hear?’ she thought.

Suddenly Par turned back east, let loose a savage roar and lunged forward, almost catching Annushka off balance. She pulled frantically at his leash as of a sudden Darya also snarled and lunged forward. As she struggled to control the dogs both Par and Darya started to bark frantically, both looking due east and pulling violently at their leashes. As she struggled with the dogs suddenly Par stopped and sat, snapping once at Darya who was instantly quiet and sat beside him. As she wrapped the leashes more securely around her hand she continued to look around. ‘I see nothing, absolutely nothing. What is going on? Why are they so savage? Why did they attack and what did they attack?’

As the dogs calmed and sat, her cell phone vibrated silently. She looked at the number and saw it was Sophia. Fearing the worst, she answered.

“Annushka! Where are you? I am at your flat.”

Annushka was puzzled. “I am walking the dogs. What’s wrong?”

“Come home, Annushka, come home! The news….” and she burst in to tears. Annushka started to run, Par and Darya running beside her, both looking over their shoulders  and whining, Par barking at something from time to time. She got to her building and ran up the two flights of stairs, letting the dogs go to run up faster. She got to her door and there was Sophia, weeping, Par and Darya whining and pawing at the door. She keyed the lock and in the four of them went. She could hear the news from the kitchen, hear shooting. She and Sophia ran to the television. She was shocked at what she saw.

The news was in English, dubbed over with Russian. She thought ‘Shut up! Let me hear it in English!’. The camera was showing distant streams of tracer arching out, muzzle flashes everywhere, some close and some far. Suddenly a brilliant explosion half blotted out the screen for a moment, then it darkened again, then another just to the left of the first, then darkness again, crisscrossed with tracer fire. A third explosion appeared and this one was clearly identifiable as a BTR brewing up. The camera switched to a man in civilian clothes speaking English, something about a UN Resolution. The screen then went back to a rerun of the earlier view of the fighting. It was obvious that whoever was doing the filming was quite some distance from the actual fighting. After two more reruns of the fighting without comment by the station, Annushka turned the sound down and switched to another station. Sophia had stopped weeping for the moment.

“Sofi, don’t worry so much, if anything has happened they will let me know immediately, so no news is good news. Your Anastasiya is safe and sound as is her Ivan. Don’t worry, my dear, everything will be OK.”

She began to fix tea. Par and Darya had calmed down, just Par going to the balcony from time to time, putting his front paws on the railing and standing on his hind legs, looking to the east, ears up and listening, from time to time growling as Darya huddled in a corner looking frightened and miserable.

Again she thought ‘What do they hear?’

While she was outwardly calm, inside she was quaking with fear and worry.