A fabulous cache of gold inspires a chamber symphony of greed and betrayal in contemporary Russia. Colonel Oleg Ivanovich Polyakov hasn't distinguished himself on his recent posting to Uzbekistan to meet legendary local gangster Pulat Usmanov, the godfather of Tashkent. Hours after arriving, he's spirited away by Usmanov, who's hidden $8.5 in gold bullion officially destined for Russia; then he's kidnapped, locked up, and put to work by Usmanov's enemies in Khiva loading the gold they're hijacking from him; finally he's slugged and hustled off back home by the minions of his own boss, General Viktor Petrovich Marchenko. But all these indignities are only a prelude to Polyakov's homecoming: Marchenko's KGB superior General Anatoli Nikolaevich Zorin, incensed that Polyakov's helped steal Usmanov's gold, abruptly strips him of his rank, his apartment, and his retirement benefits, and Polyakov realizes too late that he's been caught in a crossfire between Zorin, who's in league with Usmanov to keep the gold for the Uzbeks (and of course their special KGB friends), and Marchenko, who's bent on using the gold to finance the underground dealings of the Brotherhood. Things look better, but are actually worse, when Polyakov allows himself to fall back into the arms of his former KGB subordinate and lover, Maj. Natasha Trofimenka, whose father just celebrated his own retirement from the KGB by taking a fall from his tenth-floor apartment. Bent on identifying and punishing her father's killer, and easy prey for the promises of both Zorin and Marchenko, Trofimenka has no loyalty to spare for Polyakov. Once their alliances and positions have been staked out, Gowing's tiny cast do nothing but switch them, baiting each other with foolish ingenuity in their tireless determination to keep the gold away from Mother Russia. Gowing (The Wire, 1989) spins a series of double-crosses worthy of Len Deighton in this sorry tale of the same Old World Disorder.