Red to Black

Red to Black

3.6 22
by Alex Dryden
     
 

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Set in Vladimir Putin's new, enriched Russia, Red to Black is both a thriller and a love story that unfolds in the dimly lit worlds of the Russian and British secret services and a truly frightening portrait of the new, aggressive Russian state dominated by the KGB's successors—powerful, modern, technocratic, and free from political control.See more details below

Overview

Set in Vladimir Putin's new, enriched Russia, Red to Black is both a thriller and a love story that unfolds in the dimly lit worlds of the Russian and British secret services and a truly frightening portrait of the new, aggressive Russian state dominated by the KGB's successors—powerful, modern, technocratic, and free from political control.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The pseudonymous Dryden, a British journalist, eschews both technological marvels and implausible action scenes in his absorbing debut, a spy thriller that exposes the links between the "old" Russia of the Cold War and the "new" Russia of Vladimir Putin. In 1999, Anna, a colonel in the Russian foreign intelligence service, becomes romantically involved with Finn, an MI6 agent stationed in Moscow whom she deliberately targets for seduction. Meanwhile, Finn has learned of "the Plan," a long-nurtured and fiercely guarded scheme to undermine the West. Finn and Anna each play a decade-long and dangerous double game as they seek to uncover incontrovertible proof that will thwart the Plan and allow them to leave intelligence work together without fear of reprisals. The detailed accounts of the financial maneuverings of the KGB and its successor, the FSB, are mind-boggling. Despite lackluster prose, Dryden's fact-based scenario provides worrisome food for thought. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

Set in post-glasnost Russia and spilling into Western Europe, this superb debut novel by a pseudonymous British journalist tells the tale of star-crossed lovers who spy for opposing sides. Anna is a KGB colonel, Finn a spy for Britain's MI6. They meet in Moscow, where Anna is ordered to seduce him. Their superiors on both sides eavesdrop on their most intimate conversations; they can never trust that what they say won't come back to hurt them. They fall in love anyway and begin a covert campaign to halt Putin's efforts to use Russia's newfound oil wealth to dominate Europe. (Putin is definitely the bad guy here.) VERDICT This reviewer has never read a novel that captures so well what it must be like to live in a world where one party constantly lies to the other, knowing the other will see it as a lie and lie back in return. An exceptional novel by any standard; readers who enjoy a love story mixed with their espionage (à la le Carré's The Little Drummer Girl) will appreciate. [Library marketing; previewed in Wilda Williams's "The Great Escape," LJ4/15/09 and Prepub Alert, LJ4/15/09.—Ed.]—DK


—David Keymer
Kirkus Reviews
Brit journalist Dryden's debut is half spy thriller, half love story-and half superb. The narrator is Anna, youngest female colonel in the KGB. The beautiful (natch) daughter of a spymaster, she grew up in privilege in a KGB enclave. She's assigned to seduce Finn, a charming scapegrace of a British agent who's been posing, transparently, as a trade secretary in Moscow. Anna and Finn-each aware from the beginning of the other's real work, and aware of the other's awareness-embark on an affair, a professional obligation that grows into a passion. Immediately after Putin comes to power, Finn engineers his recall to England and retirement from duty. He knows the Russians will assume this is a feint and send Anna after him to divine the identity of the high-level Kremlin source he's hinted at. Over the next few years, at first with Anna's quiet support and eventually with her active connivance, Finn unravels a convoluted plan hatched decades earlier to launder "black money" through Luxembourg, Russia's client states and elsewhere, and to deploy it in ways that could shift the world's balance of power. The intrigue is wonderfully twisty, and Dryden paints a terrifying portrait of Putin's ruthless Russia, but the romance plot is labored and clumsy, as is much of Anna's characterization. Terrific when it sticks to spycraft and the intricacies of geopolitics. Not so much when it attempts the intricacies of the heart.
The Economist
“Prescient . . . [Red to Black] depicts a frightening and ruthless Russia, which answers to nobody.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Dryden has written a superb spy novel....the warning bell that “Red to Black” sounds against Putin’s Russia has a powerful ring, especially when it turns to the KGB.”
Emma Thompson
“Terrifying, quite frankly . . . chillingly unputdownable—everything you didn’t want to know about Putin but were afraid to ask.”
Stephen Fry
“Alex Dryden’s brilliant and unforgettable novel has told me more about the making of modern Russia than I could learn from all books of journalism and contemporary history combined...nothing short of miraculous.”
From the Publisher
"Alex Dryden is the real thing. If he got any realer, he would step out of the pages and physically punch you, with both elegance and regret." —Hugh Laurie

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062085870
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
11/29/2011
Edition description:
Reissue
Pages:
480
Sales rank:
931,660
Product dimensions:
4.32(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.12(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Red to Black

Chapter One

I don't know who I'm writing this for but perhaps it's for you. If that makes it sound like a confession, you may wonder what I'm expecting in return. A small part of me, I admit, seeks forgiveness, or at least understanding. But that part of me is less important than the forgiveness I wish to give myself, and which I find elusive.

I am writing to draw a line under the past, with its rot creep­ing into the present. I know now that if I had done this a long time ago, the present would never have been postponed and things would be different today.

In one of his more fatalistic moments, Finn said to me: 'Anna, you know our story can never be written.'

'Why not?' I asked him.

'Nobody would believe it,' he said.

But I'm here now, sitting in a medieval vault in a house in Tegern­see on the southern borders of Germany, reading Finn's story — our story — and I'm aware that all I have between me and the hostile forces that swim up at me from the pages is the Contender handgun and the twelve rifle shells on the table by my hand. And now that I've found these notebooks of his, or books of record, as he calls them, buried in this vault along with all the other material of our secret profession, I see his fatalism was short-lived. As I sift through the piles of notebooks, oddments, scraps and sheets of paper, documents and microfiches — their edges stained with cellar dampness — with only the heat of an oil burner to keep me warm, I can see that he has practically written our story himself.

The notebooks certainly contain the facts and, without these facts, my feelings wouldbe drifting in a vacuum, unmoored to the reality that at any moment I may need to use this gun and all my years of training to kill my way out of here. Feelings need to be clothed in reality and the facts — this story — supply the clothes. For days now, I have been reading and rereading Finn's prose, notes and observations — over and over. I'm reading them sitting in this dark stone vault and my eyes are running from the fumes of the oil burner and I strain in the dim light to follow the thread of a story that began long before I met Finn.

According to one note Finn made, our story begins in 1998, when Boris Yeltsin's Russia reached its nadir. A later scrawl in Finn's undisciplined handwriting names 1989 as the beginning, the year the Berlin Wall came down at last. But another, perhaps more thoughtful, observation says that it all started in 1961, when we Russians erected the Wall in the first place.

Whatever the true beginning, however, everything Finn and I have experienced will continue to unfold into a dark and uncertain future, with or without us.

As I read all his disparate and complementary records, the thing that strikes me most deeply about what Finn experienced in his long quest to have the truth accepted in his own country is his sheer obstinacy, the relentless autopilot of individual human endeavour when success seems impossible.

What also strikes me is that Finn's past has dictated his life, much as my past has dictated mine.

'You cannot escape your past, Anna,' he once told me. 'But you don't have to live in it. You don't have to build the present in its image.'

If only Finn had been true to his own belief.

Finn could have had a quiet life. That is the point, I realise, as I sit here shivering in the damp cold. He told me that he chose to pursue this quest, not just for the truth, but to have the truth accepted by his masters in London, and their political masters in the British Government. But did he really choose? Or was it his deep-seated need for acceptance that fed his stubbornness and single-mindedness?

For my part, I know I'm looking for someone or something to find responsible for my own actions, but I can't escape my part.

Oh yes, Finn could have had a quiet life, a beautiful life. He had a great talent for doing nothing, which he called happiness, but he chose to go alone down the Tunnel, as he calls it here, and I hope I'm not deluding myself when I say he would not regret that now, whatever's happened to him. For Finn has disappeared and, as I wait for the crash of sledgehammers against the door upstairs, I'm looking for a clue to tell me something, anything that might help me to find him.

There is much, too, about Finn himself in these notebooks which distracts me from my increasingly urgent task. There are details of his internal struggle to understand his motives, a struggle which I never fully understood, and that he never told me, despite the fusion of our love. During all the time I've known Finn, he never wanted to bring his own past like an evil spirit into our house. So he wrote it down in the notebooks and buried it with our secret story in this vault, which has hidden many things and many people in its long history.

And there is much in the notebooks about his feelings towards me.

'There are three distinct spirits in our relationship,' Finn once said to my grandmother at the dacha in Barvikha. This was back in the freezing winter weeks leading up to the millennium, when perhaps he and I were at our closest, and when trouble seemed far away. 'There's Anna, me and the spirit that joins us.' My grand­mother, with her peasant background, was comfortable with the world of spirits. She laughed with mirth and hugged him. Like many people whose lives he touched, Nana loved Finn.

Finn had just given me a charm bracelet. It contained two charms: a rabbit for me and a monkey for him. It was his nickname for me, Rabbit.

'The silver circle that links the charms,' he said, 'is the spirit that joins us.'

'I'm not sure I believe in spirits,' I said.

'I find I can't do without them,' he said breezily.

'How sentimental,' I replied.

But it was typical of Finn instinctively to sense the language, the context, of whoever he was talking to. Nana appreciated his inclusion of spirits. Nana was very super­stitious and, my mother told me, she was also psychic. With her deep grey eyes that glinted over her sharp, hooked nose, she even looked witch-like. When Finn described his relationship with me in this way, she replied as if foreseeing the future.

'If only that were true,' she said. 'If only you, Anna and the spirit that joins you both really were the only three things in your relationship. God bless you.'

At this moment, in the cellar, I pause over another scrap of paper he wrote about us, on some Luxembourg hotel notepad. I'm mesmerised by what he's written and can almost feel his presence here, through the words.

'When we make love, and we look into each other's eyes, I see the child in you, Anna, the spirit in you, and in those moments you are me and I am you.'

It is these brief, aching glimpses of our intimacy that distract me from my task and, to keep my mind away from such thoughts and focused on the present danger, I sit and listen for the slightest sound. Then I slot the gun's firing pin into the mechanism and slide a single round of green spot ammunition into the chamber. With this weapon, I can kill a man at over two hundred yards.

Red to Black. Copyright © by Alex Dryden. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are saying about this

Emma Thompson
“Terrifying, quite frankly . . . chillingly unputdownable—everything you didn’t want to know about Putin but were afraid to ask.”
Stephen Fry
“Alex Dryden’s brilliant and unforgettable novel has told me more about the making of modern Russia than I could learn from all books of journalism and contemporary history combined...nothing short of miraculous.”
From the Publisher
"Alex Dryden is the real thing. If he got any realer, he would step out of the pages and physically punch you, with both elegance and regret." —-Hugh Laurie

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