Romance and Revolution in Lenin’s Russia
In his third novel about the improbable romance of socialist-feminist journalist Caitlin Henry and MI-6 agent Jack McColl set during World War I, author David Downing finally finds his voice reminiscent of his Station series about prewar and World War II Berlin. Here the setting is primarily in the Russia of 1917-19. Aside from Moscow and Saint Petersburg we see our protagonists in Siberia, southern Russia and Ukraine where we witness the impact of the revolution in vast distances of the Russian Empire. And in one chapter when Caitlin is back in the U.S. we get a real sense of the persecution of America’s anti-war left as war fever envelops the country.
Several real historical figures make their appearance, most notably Alexandra Kollontai the leading feminist of the Russian Revolution who would found the Women’s Department in 1919. She and Caitlin are soulmates. In Moscow McColl runs into Sidney Riley, the Ace of Spies while plotting to overthrow Lenin’s regime. How McColl ends up in Moscow is an adventure in of itself. Through the eyes of both Henry and McColl we see the growing role of the Cheka (secret police) in the day-to-day lives of urban Russia; a portent of things to come.
Given their ideological differences and their long periods of geographical separation caused by the war, it remains to be seen whether or not their romance will survive. We await Downing’s next book, if there is one, to see if they make a go of it.
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