This book, a typical cold war thriller, is a gripping read which you would prefer to complete in one sitting. This is of that stereotype where good always wins over the bad and in these sort of cases, whether it’s the James Bond series or whatever, the good is always America and it’s friends. But, as compared to the rest, this book is more possible and balanced showing considerable human emotions in a subtle way.
I don’t know whether this book is written as a story for a movie or whether this is a book which was adapted as a movie at a later date from a book, but the story line for this is very slim. It’s simple, a high ranking officer from the Soviet high command decides to defect. The end of the story is that he successfully defects and lives.
During a Soviet official visit to a Western European American Embassy, someone drops a cassette into the pocket of an American intelligence officer who is to leave for US the next day with the instructions that that cassette should be forwarded to the American President. Consequently, a separate illegal spy ring is setup to smuggle the cassettes which are received monthly strapped somewhere in a train coming from Moscow. The day comes when the sender of the cassettes will have to leave Russia for good because the government gets an indication of this activity and constitutes a commission involving the head of KGB, the head of the Politburo and the Defence Minister to identify the person, whom everyone on both the sides is sure that is a high ranking Soviet. He gives explicit instructions as to how to smuggle him out when he will be on an official visit to Romania. It turns out that the defector is the head of the KGB himself. All this happens in the middle of a snowstorm where almost all the airports of Europe are closed forcing the party to travel from Milan to Amsterdam by train and catch a flight from there. The rest of the story deals with the Soviet attempts to kill him and their failure to do so.
This is a sort of western propaganda, but being of a wrong generation, there are a few questions which crop up –
Henry Wargrave, the leader of the operation of smuggling the head of KGB out of the Eastern Bloc is in intimate acquaintance with the heads of the intelligence wings of at least five countries, though he is not considered a big shot. Possible?
Next is, Marenkov, how senior and important he may be, does it make any sense to bring out all the sleeper cells in Western Europe to kill him and destroy the apparatus built over years, if not decades, in that attempt? Probably, that may be because of thoughtlessness coming as a knee jerk, but aren’t there no sane brains on the other side of the Iron Curtain? See the scope of damage – majority of the cream of Russian apparatus in Western Europe wiped out, deputy chief of KGB, European head of the military intelligence wing, one of their best killers killed, their main sabotage ring destroyed, complete Swiss apparatus nullified and finally their Defence Minister sacked on the human side and their secret plan regarding invasion of Switzerland, one of their best battleships, a revolution in Africa on the material side. Instead of staying calm and trying to counter the impact in a planned manner, we see something absurd.
But finally, this is a story which we are expected to read and enjoy but not look into the practicalities and merits. And this is a good book to read indeed.