Tuesday, February 18, 2014

TROTSKY'S RUN by Richard Hoyt

Trotsky’s Run is my first experience with the work of Richard Hoyt.  It was published in 1982 by William Morrow, and I ran across the mass market edition released by TOR in 1983.  It is an espionage novel with a cleverly devised plot, humor, a little tradecraft, a bunch of history—both now and then—and a somewhat satirical view of cold war paranoia.

Two of the major players in the novel are historical figures.  Leon Trotsky and Kim Philby.  Trotsky’s role in the novel develops slowly as the novel unfolds, but Philby’s role is central and obvious.  Philby wants out of the Soviet Union—where he defected in 1963—and he has information to trade with the United States for safe passage. 

Philby’s claim is bombastic.  The likely victor of the upcoming presidential election is an officer of the KGB.  The information is received a few weeks before the election, and the CIA is in a quagmire.  Is Philby’s intelligence factual, or is it nothing more than Soviet disinformation.  A quick and dirty plan is hatched; two CIA officers will extract Philby from Yalta, where he is vacationing, and interrogate him to determine the validity of the evidence.

Trotsky’s Run is as smooth an espionage novel as you will read.  The prose is sparse and economical.  It is long on narrative and short on dialogue.  The plot is crisp, complicated, and at times outlandish—although not in bad way, but rather in a mildly satirical manner that feeds off extreme cold war paranoia. 

Kim Philby’s historical narrative is interesting and, what I know about his activities before he defected, even accurate.  His role in the capture and execution of dozens of agents in communist Albania, and in the capture of Soviet defector Konstantin Volkov are two of the more interesting, but also detailed—if briefly—Philby’s early marriage to a young Austrian communist in Vienna, and his later pro-fascist stint as a journalist in the Spanish Civil War.

Trotsky’s Run is an excellent novel.  It is witty and humorous—in the manner a suspense novel should be humorous, through the dialogue.  It is both intelligent and entertaining, and while the overarching plot is somewhat fantastical Mr Hoyt is able to make it seem believable by infusing the storyline with historical events and peoples—think Trotsky and Philby—that give it a certain plausibility.  

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