Thursday, May 18, 2017

Maybe Re-Read: "Blood of Victory" by Alan Furst

Maybe Re-Read: The Blood of Victory by Alan Furst, 2002, 9780375505744.

I have been focused on reading some of the many books I own and never got around to cracking open. I'm no Bill Crider but I have a few boxes worth of fiction and nonfiction I've picked up at used book sales. I had not read a Furst novel in quite a while and grabbed this one that was discarded by Maricopa County Library System when we lived in Phoenix.

I might have read this before. I'm not sure. Since I have read or listened to several Furst novels I may be confusing his style and fondness for Eastern European spies and refugees.

IA Serebin is a poet and journalist whose wartime photo during the Russian Revolution made him slightly famous. Serebin's slight celebrity even garnered an invite to dinner with Stalin and the fish eye by a Army general. Serebin skipped out to Paris before any Stalin purges hit him and has been working with a org that assists and socializes Russian exiles.

Serebin is riding as a passenger on a Black Sea cargo ship bound for Turkey and starts shtupping a fellow passenger, the wife of a Count. The Count doesn't care. Serebin hits Constantinople, decides to call it Istanbul, and goes to visit his tubercular ex-girlfriend in the country house he bought her. They are old friends from their Odessa youth and her helped her get away from the commies.

While staying in Istanbul Serebin is helping out with the local Russian ex-pats. During an ex-pat party Serebin is called away and misses the bombing that kills most everyone else. He is later contacted by Count's Wife and is slowly and slyly recruited into a British spy operation.

Things happen.

This is before Operation Barbarossa and Russians are okay living in occupied Paris. Serebin works there a while and then heads into Hungary, Bulgarian, and Romania to try and rebuild an information network developed by an industrialist over the past couple decades. Serebin and Count's Wife get emotionally close. Serebin survives the Nazi takeover of Romania.

The meat of story comes as Serebin and Co. try to figure out how to stop or impede the flow of oil from Ploesti, Romania to Germany. The oil fields are heavily guarded and too massive an area for sabotage. Serebin and Co. focus on trying to somehow block the Danube.

Sneakiness and subterfuge ensue. Serebin wonders who people really are. Serebin wonders how he will survive. Serebin writes a little poetry. Furst supplies another happy-ish ending with Serebin and Count's Wife escaping to Turkey.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Heard: "Agent 6" by Tom Rob Smith

Heard: Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith, 2013, overdrive.com download.

Another Cold War tale with former KGB dude Leo Demidov. Third in the series and initially set in 1965 and nine years after the second novel. Promo "stuff and blurbs" calls this series a trilogy.

Leo's wife Raisa and two daughters are traveling to NYC as part of a choir. They will perform at the United Nations and D.C. Leo is staying in Moscow and working at the warehouse-factory-whatever.

Daughter #2 has been seduced by a undercover Russian spy and is tasked by the spy to encourage a Paul Robeson character-whos-name-I-forgot to appear at the NYC performance. Robeson has been isolated and marginalized by the FBI and can no longer sing professionally. When Robeson does show outside the event and gives a sidewalk speech he is shot dead.

In the aftermath of the shooting the murder weapon is slipped on Raisa, Raisa is arrested, and Raisa is shot dead when Robeson's wife shoots up the police station in a mournful rage. Raisa's violent death strikes Leo hard: his new life goal is to travel to NYC to investigate the murder, find the people responsible and vengefully deal justice.

But, Leo is an outcast of the KGB and cannot leave the USSR. A few years later he tries a winter crossing into Finland but is caught. Leo's Politburo patron spares his life but Leo is sent to Afghanistan.

Fast forward to 1980 and Leo has been in Afghanistan for seven years. If he leaves the country Leo's adult daughters and their families will be killed or sent to a gulag. Leo has been working as a advisor for years and, now that the Soviets finally invaded, has been teaching recruits for the Afghan spy service.

When his single female student is the only survivor of coordinated insurgent attacks on all the students the two of them end up on the run, bring along an orphan girl, and escape to Pakistan and strike a deal with the CIA. Leo and Co. end up in NYC. Leo continues the hunt.

Anyhoo. The book has three sections: NYC in '65, Afghanistan in 1980, and NYC in 1981.

Comments:
1. Smith tells a good story and the Afghan stories are interesting in drawing parallels between 1980 Russians and 2003-present Americans.

2. Paul Robeson character is very interesting. A black guy fighting for equal rights joins the only people who give - or at least say they care - a shit about equal rights: the commies. Robeson makes huge bucks on his singing tours but the FBI's Cointelpro gradually shuts him down. They smear his name with accusation of sexual shenanigans and claim that Robeson hates the country. His career ends when any place that hosts a concert is hit with IRS investigations, health code violations, etc.

3. The Leo character led a very tough life starting with starvation as a child in 1930s Russia. He is taken by adoptive parents but then sent to war, recruited into the NKVD and KGB, exiled to Siberia, etc. After Raisa dies he has no happiness. His life was built upon her presence and he does not allow himself to recover.

Older: "The Mercy Seat" by Martyn Waites.

Older: The Mercy Seat by Martyn Waites, 2006, 9781933648002.

I'm two weeks behind in typing up my book notes. Maybe that is for the best. I will only remember the things that struck me while reading. Or not.

Short: Investigative journalist in self-imposed exile is asked to help his old newspaper with a story involving politics.

Longer: Joe Donovan's six-year-old (or so) son went missing and Joe abandoned his career, family, and some sanity during his constant and guilty search for the boy. He's been living a self-imposed and mostly incommunicado exile in a run down house in the North.

A 14-year-old rent boy in London steals an audio disc detailing a confession about murder and industrial espionage and some other stuff. The boy listens to the disc and realizes he can sell the information. He remembers Donovan's name and calls Donovan's old newspaper offering to sell the disc. Donovan is recruited back into the fold with assurances of both payment for the job and access to any resources assisting in the search for Donovan's son.

Things happen. Beware the spoilers. Donovan and the newspaper editor shag. The boy is being pursued by a murderous and 'roided up skinhead. Donovan is a self-hating boozer. The boy has never had a stable home and can only think of getting enough cash so he won't have to sleep in abandoned cars or sell sex to middle-aged men.

The bad guy is a cop from the North who is a weasel. He is violent. He uses and abuses women. He wants money and status. There is a missing scientist involved and his absence is a huge news story.

Blah, blah, blah. As usual everything boils down to the characters, how they are developed and how they interact. There are some holes in the plot: how would a mostly illiterate 14-year-old street kid remember or know anything about an investigative reporter who went off the grid 1-2 years ago? Donovan can be frustrating and there are a couple private investigators that don't seem to fit the story.

The teen boy is the best character. He's trying his best to be brave and tough but he is just an abused kid who has been surviving day to day. Teen Boy is used by everyone and when some decent people come along - Donovan and the paper's editor - he has not reason to trust or believe in them. He goes North and is lost and a little bewildered outside of his London neighborhood.