A book blog about Russia in English-language fiction

Category: 1980s published (Page 2 of 3)

Red Army by Ralph Peters (1989) – part two

Part one of this review is here

Red Army tells the story of an imagined Soviet invasion of western Europe in the 1980s, and tells it entirely from the point of view of Soviet troops. This is no Clancy-esque overview of grand strategy and political manouevres, although Peters does, like Tom Clancy, tell his story through a select series of individuals.

That all of these individuals are in the Soviet armed forces is grist to the Russia-in-fiction mill.

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Red Army by Ralph Peters (1989)

Part two of this review is here

Future war books are a distinct sub-genre in Russia-in-fiction novels. Over the coming months this blog will review several. Others we will snub.

[Update — review of Red Metal (2019) posted 10 August 2021]

Russia in Fiction approaches such books with a couple of specific prejudices. We are not into military stuff per se; endless eye-glazing pages about high-tech weaponry, artillery placement, and military tactics. Yawn. And we are wary when such books —as sometimes—are more political manifesto than readable fiction.

Red Army side-steps both of these elephant traps with ease. Ralph Peters has written a superbly original account of a war that never was.

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The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy (1988) – part two

Part one of this review is here

Key to many a thriller/crime writer’s success is the creation of a memorable lead character. Martin Cruz Smith has his Arkady Renko, Boris Akunin his Erast Fandorin, and even John Le Carré returned again and again to the enigmatic George Smiley. Tom Clancy did not simply create such a character, he created a dynasty and alternative history.

Clancy’s Jack Ryan rose, across a series of novels, from CIA analyst to two-term US President. There then followed a series of novels about Jack Ryan Jr., continued after Clancy’s death in 2013 with varying degrees of quality across multiple authors. Jack Ryan movies are multiple, and there is a Jack Ryan Jr. TV series.

In The Cardinal of the Kremlin —the third novel to feature Clancy’s signature character— we meet CIA analyst Jack Ryan as part of an American delegation to Moscow, charged with negotiating an arms control treaty. The US side are sceptical of any Soviet concession.

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The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy (1988) – part one

Part two of this review is here

Published in 1988, The Cardinal of the Kremlin portrays a mid-Gorbachev era Soviet Union. At the time that the book was being written, Western analysts and politicians could not quite get their heads around what Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was doing.

Gorbachev had come to power in 1985, the fourth General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in less than two and half years. In a world with two superpowers, you could say that the General Secretary was one of the two most powerful men in the world. Gorbachev followed on from three sick old men, who had died in rapid succession.

In The Cardinal of the Kremlin the Soviet leader is clearly a Gorbachev figure. Clancy’s portrayal of him, and of the Soviet Union over which he presided, reflects that mixture of optimism and caution with which the West met this young reformer. Was he the real thing? Or was all subtle pretence?

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Blind Prophet by Bart Davis (1984)

There is something fascinating about Soviet-related thrillers published in the 1980s, because we know the real life geopolitical plot outcome. That is, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. You cannot help but ‘read back’ into novels of that era, what we know to be the eventual outcome.

Blind Prophet is one of those novels that took me back to what got me into Russia in fiction in the first place. By the final pages I was speed-reading, not from boredom, but from the page-turning momentum of a terrifically plotted Cold War thriller, with all the key ingredients and more.

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Confessional by Jack Higgins (1985)

Jack Higgins is a successful and prolific thriller writer. Most known for his bestselling The Eagle Has Landed (1975), he is the author of over 80 novels since his first in 1959.

Somehow having never read Higgins, I picked up Confessional because I was aware of his standing, wanted to read something by him, but also wanted to feed my ‘Russia in fiction’ predilection.

And from the Russia-in-fiction perspective it was a bit of a treat to come straight in, chapter one, to the intriguing notion of the “live like it’s the West” spy school.

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Death of a Dissident by Stuart Kaminsky (1981)

Fancy a little pre-Christmas quiz? This is one for lovers of Russia-in-fiction detective stories. There is only one question, and it is an absolute doddle.

If the first murder victim in a Russia-in-fiction detective thriller is killed with a sickle, how will the second murder victim meet their grisly end?

Of course, to give you the answer might be seen as a spoiler by some —but I am not really one for this fastidious fad for being horrified at minor plot points being revealed. So here goes, the answer is …

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Moscow Gold by John Salisbury (1980)

With Cold War espionage fiction at its height, the Moscow Olympics of 1980 presented a fine opportunity for authors to write thrillers whose very titular contemporaneity might propel them into the best seller list.

Strangely, the two thrillers that I know of —and have read— in this category were both written by well-known authors who chose to adopt pseudonyms for the purpose.

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