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Red to Black    by Alex Dryden order for
Red to Black
by Alex Dryden
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2009 (2009)
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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Alex Dryden's Red to Black has elements of a spy story and a love story, and even some thrills and chills, but is at its core an account of financial shenanigans performed over decades as the ultimate power grab of a ruthless totalitarian regime - and of a British secret agent's 'long quest to have the truth accepted in his own country'.

Finn, a British MI6 agent in Moscow who is officially a trade secretary, has been milking a high-level source very close to Vladimir Putin for years. The Russians, wanting to know what Finn's up to, had assigned Anna, a lovely KGB Colonel, to get close to him. Readers see the development of their love story - and the espionage that surrounds and eventually engulfs it - from Anna's rather cool perspective as she looks back on the events over the years that led her to sit 'in a medieval vault in a house in Tegernsee on the southern borders of Germany, reading Finn's story - our story'.

Anna, the granddaughter of a career diplomat with a father in the Foreign Intelligence Service, lived a privileged existence in Russia, but was always happiest with her Nana at their dacha at Barvikha in the KGB Forest, heart of the SVR training center. Nana approves of Finn, who calls Anna Rabbit and tells her 'I forget how to pretend when I'm with you.' After Finn returns to London from Moscow, a very senior official gives Anna the job of finding out who Finn's mole is, someone very close to the center of power in Russia. Of course, this creates opportunities for Anna and Finn to be together again.

Gradually Finn, with Anna's help and that of a ragtag collection of subversive contacts he's made over the years, pulls together evidence of the 'very long game' the Russians have been playing, a Plan leading up to 'an attack on the West'. Over the decades it involves art theft in East Germany, money-laundering, corruption and fraud, with the connivance of high officials all over Europe, but especially in Luxembourg. The odds against Finn and his endeavour are very daunting and his superiors do not want to hear about his findings. There's an attempt to bribe him, a murder, and more than one betrayal.

I found the narration of the novel - supposedly the point of view of a passionate young woman - much too cerebral. That said, Red to Black is a fascinating story, which British journalist Alex Dryden makes all too credible, and the financial manipulations at its heart are extremely disturbing.

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