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Ombres rouges by Robert Littell

Ombres rouges (edition 1999)

by Robert Littell (Author), Natalie Zimmermann (Traduction)

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1132160,074 (3.64)1
Title:Ombres rouges
Authors:Robert Littell (Author)
Other authors:Natalie Zimmermann (Traduction)
Info:Gallimard (1999), 448 pages
Collections:POLICIER, Your library

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An Agent in Place by Robert Littell



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Robert Littell's 'An Agent in Place' is the best type of spy novel (except for one thing.... see later): great writing, characters with character, good dialogue, excellent descriptions of tradecraft, an exotic locale, and a tricky plot. I loved every bit of it except for that one thing, which I'll get to later.

'An Agent in Place' begins with the transfer of a lowly US diplomat to Moscow from a short posting in Prague in the communist era. He gets integrated into the embassy scene well enough, but he has some other responsibilities that seem to be secret and much more important. Despite warnings from embassy security, he meets and ostensibly falls in love with a Russian woman. The woman, a somewhat well-known feminist poet, is in a failed marriage and takes care of both her aged father and a son with a potentially fatal illness. The KGB, who monitors activity (and apparently every word uttered...) in the American embassy figures out that the new guy not only has some higher level responsibilities but can also be squeezed for information by using access to drugs for the woman's child as leverage. The KGB 'turns' the American, who begins to supply them with dribs and drabs of information that paints the picture of a spy for the Americans at the highest level of the Kremlin. Does the KGB really want this information? Does the American really want to continue down the path as a foreign agent? You'll need to read the rest to find out......

I've read quite a few Littell novels and I've always been puzzled with their inconsistency. He's written one of the books on my 'favorites of all time' shelf, The Company, but the rest of his output is up and down.

Littell tends to use humor a bit more than other writers in the espionage genre and that will occasionally get in the way of the story. In 'An Agent in Place', he uses it to good advantage by using jokes and asides to humanize a couple of the important characters, the embassy security guy and the woman's estranged husband. The husband, a rich, alcoholic, Jewish black-marketeer, is especially adept at rolling out anti-communist zingers at the right time.

An Agent in Place is a near-great spy novel with great writing and characters.

Now for my problem with 'An Agent in Place'....

OK, given the relative sophistication of the Russian KGB, how did they not seriously consider the possibility that the entire bunch of information dumped in their laps was a disinformation campaign? As I was making my way through the book and enjoying every minute of it, I couldn't help but think myself that our guy was just giving them a load of crap and sending them down a path of our choosing. Just the fact that he was giving them remembrances, not actual copies of documents, of the work he'd performed, and only a subset of that as well, should've caused a much higher level of suspicion. ( )
  gmmartz | Oct 2, 2017 |
An intricately plotted post cold-war thriller stocked with interesting characters and plot twists, but ultimately not as satisfying as some of Littell's other novels. ( )
  Hagelstein | Jun 7, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143035649, Paperback)

With An Agent in Place, Robert Littell proves once again that he is a master storyteller in the ranks of John le Carré, Len Deighton, and Graham Greene. Deep in the vastness of the Pentagon and the bowels of the massive KGB center in Moscow are old Cold Warriors who refuse to fade away. Yet how can they wage their battles when there are no enemies anymore? Their answer is Ben Bassett. Sent to Moscow as a lowly embassy "housekeeper," Bassett meets a fiercely independent, passionate Russian poet, Aïda Zavaskaya, and falls under her spell. Together they become pawns in a dreadful game that leads to the clandestine heart of the Soviet system itself.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:46 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Agent Ben Bassett is sent to Prague and then to Moscow leading him into the clandestine heart of the Soviet system itself.

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