Alexsi, the protagonist of Christie's latest novel, is a wily 16-year-old hustler and thief in 1930s Russia. After he is arrested, turned into a spy, and forced to become a Soviet double agent in Nazi Germany, his gift for self-preservation is tested to the max.
The NKVD, the Soviet secret police, gives Alexsi no choice: he either does their bidding or gets disappeared in a Moscow prison cell. In various acts of self-defense, using a concealed knife, he has already demonstrated his capacity for violence. And he speaks German. But he needs to be trained in other areas—including on-the-job sex. "In order to achieve longevity you must think of something that repels you," his instructor tells him, preparing to demonstrate on a helpless peasant girl. Following his training, the Russians send him to Munich, where, assuming the identity of the long-missing nephew of a top Nazi official, he puts his prized ability to impersonate Germans among native Germans to use. After surviving the invasion of Czechoslovakia with a Prussian Berlin infantry unit, he is assigned to military intelligence in Berlin. There, he works under unsuspecting intelligence legend Wilhelm Canaris. Even as Alexsi is sending coded messages about German military plans back to the Russians, he is assigned by his German superiors to infiltrate the 1943 Tehran conference attended by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin—and orchestrate their assassinations. Inspired by an unsubstantiated but tantalizing account detailing this alleged plot, dubbed Operation Long Jump, Christie makes the story believable while treating readers to the escapist pleasures of imaginative fiction. The book gathers steam early on when, escaping a skirmish between Russian and Iranian Shahsavan forces in Soviet Azerbaijan, young Alexsi is awed by the " paths of light in the darkness" created by newfangled Russian machine guns. Christie never squanders that momentum. Alexsi may be an opportunist, but the jaded quality that characterizes many spy novels is nowhere to be found.
Part bildungsroman, part history lesson, part political exposé, Christie's enthralling novel defies expectations while striking all the chords that make spy fiction so enjoyable.