The Russia House (novel)

all text cover on black and red backgroundThe Russia House, is, as one expects from John le Carré, is set in the Cold War era.

In the novel, a salesman at a Moscow book fair is slipped a document by a frightened woman who wants it delivered it to Barley Blair, who she says has agreed to publish it for a unnamed friend of hers.

The salesman sneaks the manuscript through customs. Unable to find Blair, he delivers it to British Intelligence, whose CIA counterparts find it details the Soviet’s nuclear capabilities and atomic secrets.

The Service finds Blair, and presses him turning spy.

Barley stays sober long enough to be trained in the rudiments of spy craft, and sent into Russia to find the unnamed author and verify the authenticity of the document.

He contacts Kayla, trying to reach the author through her.

Before he gets to Yakov, Barley and Kayla are in love, and Yakov appears to be under KGB surveillance.

On what’s supposed to be his final effort to find out if the documents are authentic, Barley disappears.

Russia House has all the complexity of earlier Le Carré novels, but a far less gloomy setting and an almost upbeat ending.

The Russia House by John Le Carré
Knopf. ©1989. 353 p.
1989 bestseller #7; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Last of the Breed, a novel

A small figure faces the sun in a vast, empty wilderness
Joe holds a bow he made

Louis L’Amour’s Last of the Breed is a western set in the Siberian wilderness. Its hero contends, not with Indians, but with the Soviet army, KGB, and black marketeers who will sell anything or anyone for a price.

U.S. Air Force Major Joseph Makatozi, called Joe Mack by friends, has been picked up by the Soviets after the experimental aircraft he was testing over the Bering Sea failed.

He’s been taken to an isolated prison camp where kidnapped foreigner experts with technical know-how Russia wants are interrogated and killed.

Colonel Zamatev expects Joe will willingly reveal military secrets: Joe is an American Indian.

Russians know from American films that Indians hate the white men who stole their land.

With days of his capture, Joe pole-vaults over the prison fence and into the wild.

Joe spent his boyhood in the American wilderness, getting his food, clothes, and shelter from what he found there.

novelist Louis L'Amour in warm winter attire
Louis L’Amour dressed for Siberia?

Zamatev’s city-reared soldiers are no match for Joe. However, Alekhim, a Siberian native tracker may be.

The adventure unfolds in an unfamiliar setting that in L’Amour’s hands become one its protagonists.

L’Amour’s characters don’t develop, but they don’t need to. L’Amour gives them sufficient depth that readers are carried away on the strength of the story line.

Last of the Breed  by Louis L’Amour
Bantam Books. ©1986. 358 p.
1986 bestseller #8; my grade: B+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Parsifal Mosaic

Robert Ludlum’s The Parsifal Mosaic is aptly named: The novel seems composed of millions of bits of information.

front of “The Parsifal Mosaic” suggests gun pointed toward woman in the dark.
A woman on a beach in moonlight

The central story is rather simple. The White House has been infiltrated by a Russian mole who is not an ordinary KGB mole. This mole works for the VKR, the fanatical wing of the KGB.

This much information is suggested obliquely to Michael Havelock, an ex-field agent for a clandestine branch of the U.S. State Department, by his KGB counterpart, Peytor Rostov.

Rostov knows Havelock was in love with a woman who was murdered, accused of being a Soviet spy.

Rostov also knows the woman never had any KGB affiliation. He can’t understand why the kill was made to look like she did.

Havelock rejects the story until he spots his lover across the platform in a crowded Rome train station.

After that—which all happens in the first 40 pages—Havelock has to find Jenna and learn what happened that night on the beach and who is behind the deceptions.

Ludlum twists and turns and jackknifes his plot. He kept me turning pages, but I’m still not sure I got the entire story straight.

Perhaps The Parsifal Mosaic has just a few too many pieces.

The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum
Random House © 1982. 630 p.
1982 bestseller #3. My grade B

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Gorky Park: Chilling murder mystery

On dust jacket of Gorky Park, Russian fur hat with red star lies in bloody snow.
Snow, blood, fur… keys to the mystery in Gorky Park.

Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park is like no other murder mystery you’ve ever read.

By taking traditional murder mystery elements into unfamiliar settings, Cruz Smith creates a world that feels absolutely authentic.

The novel is set in Moscow, where three frozen corpses are found by accident in Gorky Park. When the Militia’s homicide detective, Arkady Renko, arrives on the scene, the KGB agent is already there, which means the murder is a political crime.

Major Priblula makes sure his men destroy as much potential evidence at the scene as possible, declares the murders aren’t a political security case, and turns the investigation over to Renko, stipulating that Renko send him regular, detailed reports.

Renko senses he’s being used. He tries to keep busy investigating without finding anything, but his instincts lead him to facts that his analytical mind pieces together.

The story gets more complicated when Renko finds one of the murdered men was an American who had the same last name as an American tourist who turns out to be a New York City policeman .

The plot is complicated by believably complex characters, many of whom are not what they appear to be and several of whom don’t even admit their motivations to themselves.

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
Random House. ©1981. 365 p.
1981 bestseller #5. My grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Man with the Golden Gun Outlines a Thriller

The Man with the Golden Gun, the final James Bond novel, was published after Ian Fleming’s death.

The novel’s presence on the 1965 bestseller list was a memorial tribute from Fleming’s loyal readers.

Dust jacket cover forThe Man with the Golden Gun


The Man with the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming

New American Library, 1965. 183 pages. 1965 bestseller #7. My grade: C-.


Between the end of the previous novel, You Only Live Twice, and the opening of Golden Gun, Commies brainwash Bond to repudiate capitalism.

Bond tries to assassinate M, who orders Bond re-brainwashed to believe in capitalism again.

M. sends Bond to prove his right-thinking by finding and killing “Pistols” Scaramanga, an entrepreneurial killer putting together a deal linking organized crime and anti-Western governments.

Scaramanga is somewhere in the Caribbean where there are swamps, snakes, alligators, female bodies tied to railroad tracks, swords honed to razor-sharpness, and strippers to entertain after dinner.

As always, Bond is cool, brave, irresistible to women, and smarter than the bad guys, even when he does dumb things, which he does at lot.

Scaramanga, in a Liberace-white suit and cowboy hat, and Hendricks, a KGB agent in a dark wool suit and Homberg, would as soon kill Bond as look at him.

They try, but Bond survives.

Folks who think James Bond is God’s gift to readers will enjoy Golden Gun.

The rest will be glad it’s short.

©2015 Linda G0rton Aragoni