Conspiracy in Kiev (The Russian Trilogy, #1) by Noel Hynd
(from my Amazon.com review "Spymaster Masters me Again")
I was a little nervous reading this book. I'd really enjoyed Midnight in Madrid (another in this trilogy), but that was my first Kindle read, and I didn't know then that these books are published by a Christian publishing house. Starting this one, I was afraid my positive impression might have been contaminated by first-timeism (I liked reading on the Kindle) and I have to assume that Christian publishing would prove to be, you know, programmatic and rule-based and therefore shallow.
This book has two parts, and part one had me completely. A good spy novel, for me, has to lead the reader to the same spot as the protagonist, wondering whom to trust, what's real, and if she's actually working for the good guys. Hynd's writing does that for me in (sorry) Spades. He is utterly convincing with his takes on the world's actual ambiguity, which he backs up with utterly reliable and detailed rich descriptions of the situations where our hero, Alex, finds herself. Including all the historical and political background you might need to leave what you thought you knew - for the purposes of the story - well and far behind.
Hynd's world is a complex place, full of spy v. spy, cynicism on the part of the 'good' guys, themselves doing illegal and nasty thing; and good hearts at the core of 'bad' guys, who have nothing good at all in their brutish resumes. You give him a pass for making Alex impossibly attractive and talented and dedicated. It makes it conceivable that she could actually be that clear-eyed about what she's up against. She's been hit on, competed against, cheated, and uses what she's got in a world where she's utterly alone and without family. She looks good because she has to, and makes a triumph of it.
I almost gave it up in the second half though, where the complexity of a world where America is not very certainly good, starts to break down. You sense flags waving, missionary certainty regaining an upper hand, and you remember that this is just a page turner where the ugly people are bad, and the pretty people good. As though all it might take is prayer and determination and style to move from one side to the other.
The second half presents a billionaire in flat relief, who's doing good by virtue of spending money on spreading God's word to indigenous people, sure along with stuff they wouldn't need without having had their world upset by that same impulse in the first place. The protagonist shrinks, in this reader's estimation, by her apparently unthinking willingness to abide by her judgments of people's hearts, regardless of the harm they wreak by their actions and by their omissions, or how they throw around their money and power.
And then, in the most blatant of possible heavy handed, programmatic and didactic moves (surely worthy of a Christian author writing Christian books), the prayerful Alex gets saved by a medallion of the cross, given her by a pure hearted and surprisingly talented child. Oh please! I thought this was a reader's book, written by a writer.
Most spy novels don't afford the reader tears, remaining focused instead on the adrenaline and mind games. This one does, again in part one, which is both surprising and a good clue to what sets the work apart. So, I'm cutting the author some slack, and here's why: the reader actually gets a chance to rise a bit above the book's protagonist. We can't be anywhere near so beautiful, so multi-lingual and muli-talented, and only James Bond himself could be so good a shot. Never mind that we would do something other than make lots of money doing missionary work to console ourselves for our pain and loss. Our choices are not so, well, lavish.
But we do understand, by the author's own recounting, just exactly where she was lead astray by her own gullibility in service to a flag and to a missionary cause whose principals were never, in any way, willing to take the risks that she did on their behalf. Unless for vanity.
The author shows how the carnage directly results, in reality, from these disingenuous self-serving moves, and reminds the reader of the Church's missionary atrocities in the name of evangelism across the centuries. You don't know where the author stands (I'm giving him back his writer's stripes), but you're pretty sure, as reader, that you're not going to be so gullible as Alex was. You're pretty sure that you're real and she's not. Which is a nice thing to be reminded of, by a book that draws you in so completely.
Then there's the matter of prayer. The stimulus-response of God's hand in apparent "answer" to prayer was so heavy handed that you have to assume it to be an announcement on the part of the author that he's not God, even in relation to the book. It's a reminder to the reader that it is just a book, and that in real life the miracles are never quite so obvious. What choice did the author have?
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