The wave of news about JLC (his new autobiography “The pigeon tunnel” for instance), made me write this review about one of his most famous books, “The Russia House”.
As it is often the case with JLC, what looks like a spy novel on the surface, is in fact quite a different story. In my opinion “The Russia House” represents JLC’s transit from the Cold War to the “modern” world. For that transit JLC uses an unlikely tool, an unlikely hero, “Barley” Blair.
Let us put the story into perspective. The USSR is about to collapse and the spy games that made possible so much literature in the 70’s and 80’s are coming to an end. JLC gives centre stage to Scott Blair, a small time editor, fairly unreliable but surprisingly a man of strong convictions. Blair gets involved in a plot to pass military secrets to the West by a Russian scientist.
The British (The Russia House department) and American intelligence services try to manipulate Blair to their own advantage. JLC is at his best describing the interrogations to which Blair is subject. He provides portraits of the various characters full of irony and poignancy.
The novel is narrated by a member of The Russia House, an in-house lawyer who provides an elegant and somewhat melancholic atmosphere to the story.
JLC is always consistent with his main character: a stubborn hero who acts on principles, rather than interest, someone who rebels against power. That is absolutely the case in “The Russia House” as in his subsequent post Cold War novels where the hero remains and the enemies are more diverse (large corporations, arms dealers, and so on).