The U.S.S.R. has spun off into its various republics, but Putin’s Russia is having second thoughts about its loss of the Ukraine.
In the midst of a plot to find a pretext for re-conquest, a blind man named Balthasar spies for the Russians. Balthasar has considerable insights that amply compensate for his lack of vision. That he can sense who approaches him and that he knows when a particular person wears blue clothing strains credulity, but readers can suspend disbelief for a while. It’s all about “the fallibility of those who trust their eyes,” he says. A long-lost half sibling named Anna Resnikov is a more interesting character. She works for Cougar Intelligence Applications, a commercial firm that is CIA-like, right down to its abbreviation. She is a former KGB agent who defected to the West because...well, because. Author Dryden (a pseudonym) displays considerable knowledge of Russia and the Black Sea area and sketches believable pictures of cities like Sevastopol. He’s wordy, though, and seems to have an ongoing love affair with adverbs, for example, “Burt said breezily,” “Burt replied stolidly” and “Burt said magnanimously.” But the characters and the plot are intelligent, with a series of twists and surprises right to the end. A climactic scene with Anna and a train is especially spectacular and satisfying. It’s good to see an East-West spy game that’s developed beyond the Cold War Clancy clashes of the last century.
A decent book that could have been better, but thriller aficionados will enjoy the complex tale regardless.