A book blog about Russia in English-language fiction

Tag: Tom Clancy (Page 1 of 2)

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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Perestroika Christi by John Hands (1990)

In 1989, when Communist governments were thrown out of the power that they had usurped across Eastern Europe, the geo-political certainties of decades went with them. Almost overnight, multiple possible paths forward opened up; and fiction writers mapped them as much as did scholars, journalists and policy professionals.

John Hands’s Perestroika Christi was published in 1990. In that in-between bit during the collapse of Communism. Soviet control over the Central and East European satellite states had been lost, Germany was re-uniting —but what of the Soviet Union itself?

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Red Traitor by Owen Matthews (2021)

It is a happy coincidence that the Russia in Fiction blog is being written at a bumper time for Russia-in-fiction trilogies. We are in the middle of those by Sarah Armstrong and Ben Creed. The final one of Henry Porter’s Paul Samson series was published in April of this year, followed the next month by the last in Tom Bradby’s Kate Henderson series (the first is reviewed here, the third is mentioned here). And we are certainly at the end of the Dominika Egorova trilogy by Jason Matthews, as he sadly passed away a few months ago (again, the first is reviewed here).

And now his namesake Owen Matthews brings us the second in his Alexander Vasin series.

Red Traitor differs from the first novel in the series, Black Sun (2019). Black Sun was very much a detective story, and notable for its plot being contained geographically and culturally in the distinctive and little-known world of the Soviet closed city.

Red Traitor ranges more widely. In genre terms Red Traitor moves onto the ground of the international relations thriller, with sonar-pinging echoes of Tom Clancy’s early work.

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Red Metal by Mark Greaney and Lt. Col. H. Ripley Rawlings IV (2019)

War-with-Russia novels were legion in the 1980s. Authors such as Tom Clancy, Ralph Peters, Dennis Jones, Larry Bond, Ian Slater, and General Sir John Hackett all produced one or more examples of military scenario fiction, usually written as a sort of alternative history.

To generalise with some degree of assurance, their plots consisted of carefully worked out military campaigns of the war-gaming variety, drawing on the detailed plans that NATO and the Warsaw Pact had developed for such eventualities. To make them more than simply glorified campaign manuals, human interest would be added by naming individual soldiers, sketching out their characters and home lives, and following them into battle.

Russia in Fiction has reviewed one of the betters ones, Red Army by Ralph Peters (1989). Red Metal, published three decades later, gives an updated and original take on the war-with-Russia concept.

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The Kremlin Contract by James Barwick (1987)

Way before the death of Stalin became the title of a graphic novel which then in 2017 became a comic movie, banned in Russia, the actual passing of the Communist dictator in March 1953 provided the plot for several thrillers written by British writers.

The novel reviewed before this one —Robert Harris’s Archangel (1998)— begins on the day of Stalin’s death. John Kruse’s Red Omega (1981) develops the fictional notion that Stalin was assassinated. Barnaby Williams’s Revolution (1994) has Stalin suffocated by his Politburo subordinates.

The Kremlin Contract similarly has the theme of Stalin being assassinated. And almost all of its characters, on both sides of the Cold War divide, want him dead.

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The Last Defector by Tony Cape (1991)

The chilling thriller that predicted the Soviet military coup; so says the front cover blurb. Not a bad strap line.

Though that line is a little post-hoc, given that The Last Defector was published in paperback after the military coup of August 1991. Cape did not predict the military coup, just a military coup. Bit picky on our part, after all precise prediction is too much to ask.

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The Hour of the Lily by John Kruse (1987) – part one

Part two of this review is here

John Kruse wrote three novels about the Soviet Union in the decade from 1981. His first — Red Omega (1981)— is the best and most successful, as evidenced by the fact that it has been made available as an ebook.

So, if Red Omega is the best of Kruse’s three novels, why turn, in Russia in Fiction’s first review of a Kruse work, to his second book, the somewhat sprawling 1987 novel The Hour of the Lily?

Afghanistan is the reason. The Hour of the Lily has a setting that is largely neglected in Western novels and thrillers, namely, the almost decade long Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989).

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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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City of Ghosts by Ben Creed (2020) – part one

Part two of this review is here

Mutilated  bodies found in the snow. That is a fairly standard starting point for a Russia-in-fiction detective novel. Think, of course, of the classic of the genre, Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park (1981). Or more recently, G.D. Abson’s second Natalya Ivanova novel, Black Wolf (2019).

City of Ghosts starts with five mutilated bodies found in the snow. This novel is no shy newcomer sneaking into the back of the Russia-in-fiction incident room hoping not to draw attention to itself.

City of Ghosts is the first of the Revol Rossel thriller series. Set in Leningrad in 1951, as the Stalin era is coming to an end, this is a book that knows its Russia, knows Leningrad, and knows Soviet history. The Stalin era did not limp off the global stage but —so far as its reputation for terror and oppression went— it stayed right on until the end of its road. And Leningrad was a particular target for Stalin’s personal ire.

Within this setting, Ben Creed (the pen-name of the co-writing duo Barney Thompson and Christopher Rickaby) develops a macabre tale brimming over with multiple ideas and intentions.

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