Joseph Finder’s The Moscow Club re-released this past Christmas is a very realistic novel about the Russian coup. If the reader wants a change of pace from the terrorist based Middle East thrillers this is a book to delve into. Originally written as a contemporary novel, it has now become a historical novel since its plot is based on a coup overthrowing Mikhail Gorbachev.
The characters are well developed and interesting. The heroes are Charlie Stone, a CIA analyst and his estranged wife, Charlotte. Both are intellectual, and tough individuals who are able to piece together a conspiracy by a group of Kremlin insiders working with rogue CIA individuals. Stone also finds himself having to prove his innocence after being accused of murder. He decides to get to the truth, which has him traveling across the US, throughout Europe, and ending up in the Soviet Union.
The villain is Winthrop Lehman who is based on Armand Hammer. Finder told blackfive.net that he wrote the book “to show how Hammer was friendly with Lenin. Here was a billionaire industrialist who had easy access to the White House and was working with the Russians against American interests. I used fiction as a way to tell a larger truth about Hammer. My contacts in the CIA were more willing to talk to me if I wrote a novel. I knew he would make a compelling villain in the story.”
A powerful quote from the book, describes how after Gorbachev is overthrown he will be replaced with “a right wing, neofascist Soviet leadership that will be dangerous.” Finder wanted to point out the way the Russian government worked and that today’s leadership is no different. “I predicted it. I remember having so many arguments as to what will happen in Russia. So many people thought that the bad guys were gone from Russia and the good guys were in control. I kept emphasizing it does not work that way. The people in power want to keep their power. I wanted to show glimpses of what Russia is really like.”
He did that by showing how the Russians broke up families and many times held a wife or child behind as hostages to ensure someone’s cooperation. He also goes into great detail on how the Russians tortured and murdered those who did not agree with the government. The author explores the question of Lenin’s death, which becomes a central part of the plot. Was he poisoned instead of dying a natural death?
An interesting side note is that it was written pre-9/11. There are parts of the book that can never happen today. For example how easy it was to get a fake passport, cross the border between the US and Canada, get a plane ticket at the last minute by paying with cash, and sneaking a gun through the detectors. Finder commented that he actually had someone field test sneaking a gun on a plane from Boston to Washington. The reader can compare how rules have changed in this nation post 9/11.
The Moscow Club is an engrossing spy novel. It is very insightful since it was written about the Russian coup just months before it really happened. It delves into the Russian culture and political scene. The plot is very believable and is a quick read for those who like engrossing thrillers.