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Book Author: William Christie

A SINGLE SPY by William Christie: Book Review

A Single Spy is an outstanding thriller.  Actually, more than simply a thriller it’s a novel about history, war, trust, loyalty, and a young boy’s determination to survive.

The novel begins in 1936 Azerbaijan, with a teenaged Alexsi Ivanovich Smirnov at the head of a mule train in the desert on the Soviet border with Iran.  He’s leading a group of Shahsavan tribesmen, Azeri-speaking Iranian nomads, who are smuggling goods across the border.  But a troop of Russian soldiers is waiting for them, guns ready.  Ever alert to danger and to treason, Alexsi manages to evades both the tribesmen and the soldiers, but after his escape he’s still a lone boy on the streets of Baku.

Two weeks later Alexsi is picked up by the police and transported “somewhere in the Soviet Union,” which turns out to be Moscow and the infamous Lubyanka prison in particular.  Proving the total control and observation that the authorities have over the populace, Alexsi’s interrogator knows nearly everything about him–his orphaned state, his ability to speak and understand German, and his need to take care of himself in any way he can.

The interrogator, Grigory Petrovich Yakushev, has Alexsi sign a note promising to spy for and to be true to the Soviet Union.  He’s told to pick a code name, known only to the GUGB.  Alexsi chooses “Dante” because he’s familiar with the Divine Comedy, although he tells Grigory he’s only read the Inferno completely and didn’t finish the other two parts of the epic poem.  When the agent asks why he didn’t continue reading, Alexsi tells him, “Hell was much more interesting than heaven.”

Alexsi is a protagonist who will quickly get you on his side.  He does things you won’t approve of, but you understand why he does them.  He’s always looking out for number one because if he doesn’t look out for himself, who will?  He’s alone in the world, with no family or friends to protect him, and certainly the government wants him only for his abilities–his brains and his facility with languages–and would murder him in a minute if his death were deemed necessary to the powers-that-be.

A Single Spy takes the reader from Azerbaijan to Moscow to Berlin to Iran.  Alexsi is always in danger, whether from the Afghani tribesmen, the Nazi military, or the Russian secret police.  He can count on no one’s loyalty or permanent protection and must depend on his own sharp wits to keep alive.  As he discovers during his days in Berlin, even the people who supposedly want to hear the truth from him really don’t; they simply want to have their own ideas and prejudices supported.  Over and over again the message is brought home–you can’t trust anyone but yourself.

William Christie has written a fascinating book, a look into both the mind of a young man forced into the most dangerous situations possible and the looming nightmares of the twentieth century personified by Stalin and Hitler.  A Single Spy is a tough, graphic read and well worth your time.

You can read more about William Christie on many internet sites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.