He named five of the best forgotten Cold War thrillers for Sophie Roell at The Browser, including:
Seventeen Moments of SpringRead about another book on Duns's list.
by Yulian Semyonov
Your first choice is Seventeen Moments of Spring, which was a Soviet attempt to create a rival to James Bond.
I’m not sure it was as specific as that, but it did turn out that way. It was part of the Soviet government’s effort in the Cold War to rehabilitate the idea of the secret agent and to get recruitment. It’s quite a fascinating novel from a propaganda point of view, which is basically what it amounts to. But it’s also a very, very good novel.
The premise is a little bit strange, if you’re reading it now, because the hero is a Soviet agent dressed in a Nazi uniform. He’s managed to infiltrate himself as a medium-grade Nazi and it’s set in the last two weeks of World War II. It’s a slightly weird thing – you’re supporting him, you’re following him, but he’s actually loyal to the Soviet Union. But it works. It’s extremely tense, very tautly plotted and very convincing.
It’s a fictionalised version of some real events that happened, where the Americans were thinking of making a separate peace deal with the Germans that would exclude the Soviets, and this guy’s job is to stop that happening. It’s so convincing that a lot of people in the Soviet Union thought it was a true story. A lot of people in Russia today are convinced that this agent, Maksim Isaev, was a real guy. It’s bigger than James Bond, it’s like James Bond, Robin Hood and King Arthur: he’s a complete mythical figure in Russia. It’s very interesting to read and to see a spy story from the other side of the Iron Curtain. But it’s also just a very exciting thriller.
And it’s still a popular TV series in Russia?
I don’t know when they last ran it, but they just made a prequel. It’s one of these classic TV series they made in the 70s that had a very famous theme tune, and they did it all in black and white. When they rerun the series apparently the crime rate drops in Moscow because everyone is inside watching it.
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