Moscow Venture, by A. K. Celer, is a good old-fashioned spy thriller.
When John Baran learns that his friend and coworker has died under mysterious circumstances he’s determined to unearth the truth. This means he has to travel to Moscow where David Chernov was struck with the bizarre ailment.
In the summer of 1991, hardliners in Russia don’t want to see the breakup of the Soviet Union and will go to great lengths to stop Gorbachev from signing the new union treaty, even if that means overthrowing the communist leader. While Baran is in Moscow managing his company’s cellular network venture and trying to uncover what happened to his friend, he’s caught up in the middle of an unstable political and economic environment. Moscow is opening the doors to western companies, but not everyone welcomes them.
This is an old-fashioned spy novel that pits democracy against communism and is reminiscent of Ludlum and Clancy. While it’s hard to imagine a time without cell phones, it wasn’t all that long ago that people weren’t always connected via their phones. A lot has happened since 1991 and technology has advanced so much it’s hard to remember the pre-cell phone days.
The mystery of David’s death is only one aspect of the novel that adds to the heart-pounding drama. It’s also a race to see if Baran’s company can get their cell phone services up and running before the 1991 August coup. The reader knows how transformative this technology will be, but it’s written in such a way, that the reader forgets what it’s like today and is whisked away to a time before the world drastically changed: the end of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the introduction of cellular services. Connecting all three is a masterful way of making for an exciting and original story.
Celer’s descriptions of Moscow right before the fall of the Soviet Union paints a terrifying picture of the instability, the threats, and the way of life behind the Iron Curtain. At times it’s hard to believe everything, such as the amount of listening devices in hotel rooms and homes, but given the type of society that developed during the climate of fear and turning others in for favors it’s not completely unimaginable. One may wonder if Celer actually lived in Moscow during this time. If he didn’t, he did an incredible amount of research to pen such a realistic account of a frightening time in Russia’s history.
This story is told from an American point of view and it’s clear that the main character isn’t a fan of the Soviet way of doing things. Given that the story takes place during the collapse of Gorbachev’s reign it’s not difficult to see the character’s side, but it may have helped to strike more of a balance between the two political and economic structures. The American way of doing things isn’t always the right way.
Moscow Venture is an interesting and unique addition to spy thrillers that takes place during the final stages of the Cold War.