Political whodunit author Smith (Child 44, 2008, etc.) returns with more intrigue from behind the old Iron Curtain.
Actually, a good chunk of the intrigue occurs on this side of the Atlantic. Leo Demidov is a loyal functionary, a good servant of the state and its apparatus, “a decorated soldier recruited to the ranks of the secret police after the Great Patriotic War.” He is also sensitive to the Orwellian implications of his job, aware that open sedition isn’t always the thing to look out for; more important are the incomplete or insincere expressions of love for the Great Leader and the system. Naturally, under such a regime even the most loyal of servants falls under suspicion, and on that point some of Smith’s taut tale hinges on the introduction of some key players. One is an African-American singer named Jesse Austin, transparently modeled on Paul Robeson, who, “unlike many Negro singers,” as one apparatchik dryly puts it, is unreligious—or better, “Communism is his church.” When Austin falls to an assassin in New York, Demidov’s wife, Raisa, traveling there on a cultural mission, is implicated, thanks in good part to a loyal cop on the capitalist side of the Wall, an FBI man who specializes in “nonlegal harassment” of suspected Communists and fellow travelers. Demidov is stymied when his controllers deny him permission to dig into the truth—and, nonlegally, he takes matters into his own hands, which puts him in some of the more precarious corners of the world, not least of them Afghanistan. Smith’s tale spans years and continents, and the period details are exactly right even as he spins out an old-fashioned thriller that would do Ludlum and le Carré proud. The story is a little long, but it has a nicely creepy and—yes—Orwellian ending that amply repays the occasional detour in getting there.
A big book, in every sense, that’s sure to draw attention.