A book blog about Russia in English-language fiction

Tag: Orthodoxy

Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva (2008)

Predictable we may be, but Russian in Fiction couldn’t resist reviewing in succession two books with identical titles.

Daniel Silva’s Moscow Rules (2008) is a very different sort of thriller from Robert Moss’s Moscow Rules (1985), in terms of both aspects of Russia in Fiction’s reviewing template.

Russia in Fiction asks two things about the books we review. What is the novel like? And how does it portray Russia? For the former, Daniel Silva is a doyen of the novel-a-year, same central character, same formula series. For the latter, when Silva deals with Russia, he tends to the straight down the line, big bad Russia approach; not uncommon at all amongst Western thriller writers, and a useful marker of how Russia has been popularly perceived at particular points of time.

And if this brief opening summary makes it sound like Russia in Fiction doesn’t think much of Daniel Silva’s writing, then we want to correct that misperception immediately. 

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A Patriot in Berlin by Piers Paul Read (1995) – part two

Part one of this review is here

Part three of this review is here

A Patriot in Berlin has some of the archetypal features of books set shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. To the fore is the presence of those ex-KGB and military types deeply concerned at the loss of Soviet power, and with it their own power. The list of novels built on similar concerns in the 1990s is long (immediately springing to mind are Tim Sebastian’s Saviours Gate, and Tony Cape’s The Last Defector).

Having elements of a formula does not make a novel formulaic, nor does dealing with common themes make it derivative. A Patriot in Berlin has striking elements of its own. It is set in post-unification Berlin in 1992-93 and is based around plans for an exhibition of Russian art forbidden in the Soviet years.

Read has a gift for encapsulating the uncertainty of these years; an uncertainty which Russia in Fiction remembers well from life in Moscow during that period.

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Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carré (2010)

Le Carré books stand out from the crowd. They are atypical in the world of thrillers, and Russia-related thrillers. Not for them the fast-moving plot-based story packed with clichéd characters. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the finest Russia-related espionage novel ever written. (The Honourable Schoolboy runs it very close, but has little to do with Russia). Whether it is a thriller is a different question. It represents rather the thriller as literature.

Our Kind of Traitor has of course the main Le Carré traits, but, like several of his later books, it is a slighter work than his greatest novels.

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