In 1968, a couple of KGB agents in Germany wanted to defect. Too bad for them that the CIA and the US Army wanted no part of this action. A group of US soldiers decided to facilitate these defections without any official coordination. What could possibly go wrong? More things than you can probably imagine.
How much of this book is true? It appears as if it was lifted out of some classified espionage file, but Dead by Christmas is a fictional account based on real events that happened in Germany. The author's 33-year intelligence career allows him to write with authority on this topic. The names and places have been changed to protect the guilty, so one should not try to determine what is true and what is legend. If you think you know, don't tell. If you don't know, don't ask. Just enjoy the story.
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""They want nothing to do with the matter."
A truly amazing story set in the latter part of the 1960s, during the Cold War period. In the publisher's synopsis, it is claimed that this is a fictional account based on true events. If this is so, the 'stranger than fiction' label must certainly apply here.
Two soldiers, one a two term Vietnam veteran, are assigned on the same day to a remote German posting, 3FO, which has the reputation of being, " the trash pile of the U.S. intelligence community." Both come with baggage - the younger man had fallen foul of an erroneous rumour that he was homosexual and the older vet was a black officer. Neither are welcomed by their new commanding officer and form a survival friendship in the face of camp hostility. The pair meet with two counterpart intelligence officers on the Russian side, one of who had been a friend of Shelby, the younger soldier, when at college and, after an half hearted attempt to recruit the two Americans, the Russians decide they want to detect. Indeed, one even needs it to appear that he is dead to prevent any future search for him. Unable to get any help from the CIA or the army intelligence, the two soldiers decide to go it alone and sort it out themselves.
This is not a fast paced action book but is, nevertheless, diffused with tension as well as giving interesting insights into the workings and attitudes of so called Intelligence agencies of the time and some of the people within them. There are also delicious little stories told along the way, and especially enjoyable was the reaction to an uncut video shown, at their request, to a gathering of congressmen. The whole book has that absurdity of truth and gentle impossibility which makes it feel so real. I hope it is, as stated, based on fact.
The narrator, Bob Johnson, has a very pleasant voice and reads the whole with consistent expertise. The different voices are just enough to differentiate the characters and his Russian accents are subdued, not an outrageous caricature. The steady, undramatic performance enhances the feeling of reality. My only concern, and it is a personal one, was that his soothing voice and gentle cadences tended to pull me into a sleepy state and I had to rewind to repeat sections I had missed.
This is not a fast action spy story, no James Bond types here. But a sold, often amusing, tale of getting it done in the face of neglect and opposition both personal and from the state. My thanks to the right's holder for gifting me this book, via Audiobook Boom. I enjoyed it immensely and warmly recommend it to anyone who enjoys quirky spy tales from this era as well as anyone who simply wants a remarkable and different thriller.
- Norma Miles