“Most men are gross, when you get right down to it.” Indeed, as this suggestive thriller demonstrates.
Let’s see: Put a very rich man with political aspirations into bed with a porn star who decides that maybe she’d like to tell her side of the story. Mix in a Czech ex-wife and a coterie of Russian intelligence agents, all in “spitting distance from the White House” as of the fall of 2016, and you have the makings of either an average day’s newspaper headlines or this espionage yarn, written by an anonymous author who’ll likely be outed as fast as Joe Klein was. Why anonymous? Well, the world is full of mysteries, and one is how the young woman who would become perfume mogul Elena Craig got out of Czechoslovakia in the early 1970s in the first place. “There’s every chance your friend escaped but enormously unlikely for anyone but a superhero,” explains a researcher to Grace Elliott, a journalist who’s on the story in spite of her publisher, who’s given to suppressing news unfriendly to his political pals. As a sop, she’s been given a ghostwriting gig for Elena, whose ex—well, as Elena says, "My Tony will become the most powerful man in the world.” What Grace learns through hints, missing bits of chronology, and considerable legwork fuels a juicy conspiracy theory: What if the KGB had targeted an American way back at the time of the Munich Olympics and plotted out a long game for turning him? Parts of the thriller are a touch undercooked, but there are some well-played moments, including the deserved comeuppance of one Soviet-era bad guy by another who deserves it just as much. There are lots of twists and turns, red herrings, and characters to follow—as our American patsy says, “I can’t keep track of all the -skys”—but Anonymous does a competent enough job of keeping all the plates in the air.
John le Carré it’s not, but even when truth is stranger than fiction, this bit of fiction is satisfyingly offbeat.