With battles of wits rather than brawn, and clashes of personalities rather than gadgets, Sasha Plotkin's Deceit suggests a kind of literary authenticity. In telling his tale, Vaughn Sherman forgoes the big-budget action sequences, the crazy gadgets, and the overt sexuality of his cinematic peers to focus instead on the human element of covert espionage.
Set during the height of the cold war, this is a story of betrayal and blackmail played out on both an international scale and an intimate one. On the surface, it's the story of a reluctant CIA operative working to orchestrate the physical defection of a KGB agent, one with whom he has an uncomfortable history. Beneath that surface, however, it's also the story of one women attempting to prevent the emotional defection of her husband, and another that of her son. Chris, the CIA operative upon whom the story turns is a man caught between conflicting loyalties and expectations, in a world where he can afford neither.
Although the pacing was a bit slower than I have become accustomed to, the story does move along well. There's a lot of historical information to absorb, but I have to give Sherman for credit doing so as part of the story, rather than just info-dumping on the reader. Even if you're not old enough to remember the cold war, he recreates that world and deftly immerses the reader within it. The flashbacks were a bit awkward, and I found they pulled me from the story, but were necessary to establish the 'present' tension and to create some real mystery.
In terms of characters, they're all well-developed on an intellectual scale, but they seemed to lack something on an emotional level. Maybe it was the coldly detached manner of storytelling - which is completely appropriate to the genre - but I didn't find I ever came to truly care about them. Chris and Sasha intrigued me, and I really wanted to know how their tale would resolve itself, but Lisa and her mother-in-law were almost a distraction, despite the fact that their relationships help to define Chris.
Having said all that, this was a story that kept me reading right to the end, and which had me sincerely intrigued as to how it would all work out. The espionage elements were fascinating, as were the political aspects, and I quite appreciated how the story came around to its resolution. If you're a fan of the genre, or have an interest in the time period, it's definitely a book worth checking out.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins