He had planned the defection for months with his usual relish for detail—the trip to Japan, the pills, the shampoo, the X rays, the last-minute postcard to Maureen, even the book to read on the plane to Moscow. But somehow he had ended up on the set of a Hitchcock film—in a shabby embassy, in an antique room, in the midst of people who did not speak his language.From that point on both sides are trying to decide how much damage has been done. How useful is Lewinter's knowledge is if it is shared with the Soviet Union? Will the Soviet Union even want to make use of his information? Could he be a double agent?
"You know, I've often dreamed of playing chess with live people. The ones that are taken off the board would be killed—"
"Could you do it?" Sarah interrupted in a low voice. "Could you really do it?"
"I know I could. I could even sacrifice—give up one man in order to gain a position or advance a gambit."This book has a bleak outlook. I have been reading a string of spy thrillers by John le Carre that have a darker, less optimistic mood. Even so, this book was very enjoyable. This is a book I could reread right now.
The characters are well drawn and interesting, on both sides. In some spy fiction, one feels that the players are doing what they do for the greater good, even if they or others must make sacrifices. In this case, each person has more invested in achieving personal success than in the success of their country's political ideals.
The Defection of A. J. Lewinter was Robert Littell's debut novel; it won the British Crime Writers Association's Gold Dagger Award in 1973.
I have read two other books by Littell. One is Legends, which I loved. It is about an ex-C.I.A. operative who has had so many false identities (“legends”) that he is not even sure who he really is.
The other is The Company, which is a very, very long saga of the Cold War beginning in the early 1950's and going up to the collapse of the Soviet Union. After finishing that book, I passed along my copy because I was sure I would not subject myself to that long story (with lots of boring bits) again. But a couple of years ago I bought a hard back copy because I think I would like to give it another try. I have a few more books by Littell to read first, though. Recommendations would be appreciated.
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2003 (orig. pub. 1973)
Length: 293 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Setting: US, Soviet Union
Genre: Espionage fiction
Source: I purchased this book.