Russia in Fiction has several times repeated our short list of the best writers of Cold War espionage novels. It goes, John le Carré, rhymes with Charles McCarry, and add a couple of Bobs (Littell and Moss). But have we yet reviewed a Robert Littell espionage novel? It’s a rhetorical question.
Russia in Fiction has reviewed a le Carré (Our Kind of Traitor), a couple of McCarrys (The Secret Lovers and Old Boys), and one and half Moss’s (Moscow Rules, and The Spike co-written with Arnaud de Borchegrave).
And now we finally get round to reviewing a Robert Littell book, and what do you know, it is not one of his invariably terrific espionage novels. In fact it is not even a book we enjoyed much. But it is a fine novel from the Russia-in-fiction perspective, written by a skilled writer with undeniable panache and wit and knowledge of Russia.
The Moscow Olympics of 1980 presented a setting for thriller writers that was too good to miss. Especially if they timed it right and got their book in the shops ahead of the Games.
Russia in Fiction has already reviewed one such book (John Salisbury’s 1980 novel Moscow Gold). David Grant beat Salisbury to the tape, with Moscow 5000 being published in 1979.
Well, we say David Grant. In reality, Moscow 5000’s author was renowned British thriller writer Craig Thomas (1942-2011), writing under a pseudonym. And the novel’s skilfully complex plot betrays that it is not written by a novice; with four strong and interlinked story lines coming to their conclusion in the running of the men’s 5000 metres final in the XXII Olympiad in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in 1980.
From the Russia-in-fiction angle, two of these plot strands are notable; particularly so the Ukrainian nationalist one.
Stephen Coonts is at the forefront of the book-a-year thriller writer stable, and has been since the 1980s. Like many others (Tom Clancy, Stella Rimington, Daniel Silva, to name but three of a long list), he often writes about the same characters — in the case of Coonts, the chief protagonists in his fiction are Admiral Jake Grafton and CIA officer Tommy Carmellini.
Coonts less often writes about Russia, but even that, he does with relative frequency —for example, The Red Horseman (1993), Fortunes of War (1998), and Wages of Sin (2004).
What Coonts does, he does well; namely, snappy and well-plotted action thrillers. He is an ex-military man and, from what I have read —basically, the Russia-related titles named above— his politics seem to be patriotic American.
(Part one of this review is here)
Tom Bradby’s Secret Service goes for a straight down the line buy-in to the standard thriller-writer depiction of Putin-era Russia in the second decade of the 21st century.