A fast-paced Cold War spy story…
I was intrigued while reading about author Jeri Laber’s career as a founder of Human Rights Watch, and so I was happy to receive an advance review copy of her new spy novel, The Russian Key. And The Russian Key turned out to be an enjoyable look back to a time when international relations were pretty much all about the Cold War rivalry between the US and the USSR.
In the midst of this rivalry, young Kate Landau manages to finagle a visit to the Soviet Union for herself and two of her college friends. Even more impressively, she manages to briefly break free of the oversight of their tour “guides” long enough to have a couple of brief encounters with Max Rzhevsky – the last of which ends badly for Kate. But it doesn’t end badly enough for her to give up on her fascination with all things Russian, and a decade later, she works for the CIA, Max works for the KGB, and spying on him is her chance to get out of her boring desk job and into the field.
As with many spy novels, there’s a lot of ambiguity and readers will enjoy trying to figure out who is really spying on whom. Kate has been directed to figure out if Max might be a potential defector. Max tries to figure out if Kate is CIA, and spying on him. The Cold War background felt pretty realistic – probably due to Laber’s experience with Human Rights Watch. And there’s a good bit of action, including a memorable (and spooky) ocean scene.
Overall, I liked The Russian Key, and I especially liked the fact that the story is told from a female point of view – sort of rare in the world of spy thrillers. But I did have trouble feeling much empathy with the characters. Both Kate and Max seemed shallow and a little unlikeable, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care much about either one. So although The Russian Key has a nice twisty plot, and I read it inonly a couple of sittings because I wanted to know what happened, I ended up giving this four stars instead of five. That’s still a solid “read” recommendation from me, but it could have been higher if I’d been able to connect a bit more with either Kate or Max.
And finally, my thanks to Skyhorse Publishing/Arcade for the review copy!