While Jakob is a rather dispassionate observer and the reader never really identifies with any of its characters, The Czar's Madman still compels. It has elements of a detective story, as Jakob gradually uncovers the truth behind Timo's arrest and the details of his imprisonment (and later the truth about his death). At the same time he must cope with the vagaries of life under an absolute monarchy, hiding his journal, trying to arrange a flight into exile, and all the time wondering whether Timo really is mad. There is also interest in his own love affairs and in the finely wrought portrait of Estonian society in the early nineteenth century.
Kross is another novelist I had never previously heard of, for whom I will henceforth keep a close watch. Apparently he has written a number of historical novels, though I foresee some trouble finding English translations of them.