A spy in the right place at the right mo­ment

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Muriel Dob­bin Muriel Dob­bin is a for­mer White House and na­tional po­lit­i­cal re­porter for Mc­Clatchy news­pa­pers and the Baltimore Sun.

Alexsi is a cre­ation of and for the world of Joseph Stalin at its most ter­ri­fy­ing. A prac­ticed thief at 16 years old, he is cap­tured by the com­mu­nist NKVD, the law en­force­ment agency of the Soviet Union, and be­comes a se­cret agent who is also a trained killer. Some of the most riv­et­ing chap­ters in this fas­ci­nat­ing es­pi­onage thriller deal with his training.

Yet Alexsi never loses sight of his be­lief in an old Rus­sian say­ing that “if you live among wolves you must act like a wolf.” He even tells Win­ston Churchill that when he is as­signed to par­tic­i­pate in a plot to kill the prime min­is­ter. And he never for­gets his training be­cause that is how he sur­vives. His first love proves to be an­other se­cret agent and they be­tray each other.

In “A Sin­gle Spy,” Wil­liam Christie has done a re­mark­able job of an­a­lyz­ing the psy­chol­ogy of a spy, es­pe­cially one who lives in con­stant dan­ger and ac­cepts it. His Alexsi is a mer­ci­less killer and a for­mi­da­ble fight­ing man. Most of all he un­der­stands what he does and he is not mo­ti­vated by pa­tri­o­tism or any kind of de­vo­tion to Russia.

As Mr. Christie writes, Alexsi sim­ply sees the world dif­fer­ently. “[H]e didn’t care a fig for Com­mu­nism or Stalin or world rev­o­lu­tion. He worked for them be­cause he had to — he’d al­ways done what he had to. They thought he was one of them; they’d put him in their spe­cial or­phan­age be­cause he de­nounced his fa­ther and ev­ery­one who de­stroyed the Shultz fam­ily to the se­cret po­lice. But he’d only done that be­cause he wasn’t strong enough to kill them him­self.”

He learns his lessons well and gains what passes for trust on the part of the ruth­less Soviet ma­chine and Stalin, who is the mur­derer in charge of more killings than Hitler, his Nazi coun­ter­part.

Alexsi is so suc­cess­ful as a Rus­sian se­cret agent that he be­comes a Ger­man dou­ble agent for the Ab­wehr and is as­signed a ma­jor part in a bold plan of at­tack at the Te­heran con­fer­ence (code named Eureka) be­tween Churchill, Stalin and Roo­sevelt. The plan calls for the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter to be killed, along with the kid­nap­ping of the Amer­i­can leader.

It makes the book more in­trigu­ing that there is still spec­u­la­tion that such a scheme was in the works in 1943 and that dou­ble agents of all breeds were in­volved. Ac­cord­ing to the au­thor, re­cently de­clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence sup­ports the the­ory, and it strength­ens the dra­matic im­pact of an al­ready stun­ning chron­i­cle of what a spy can do. In this case it fo­cuses on the meet­ing be­tween Alexsi and Win­ston Churchill at the book’s cli­max, but the added de­tail of Churchill’s fas­ci­na­tion with Alexsi’s ob­ser­va­tion about spies and lone wolves helps give the book its depth and con­tour. The flour­ish is as in­ge­nious as it is plau­si­ble and it is well tai­lored to the deeply rooted cyn­i­cism of the book.

But it is the au­thor’s ob­ser­va­tions about spy­craft that carry the day: “We gather in­for­ma­tion by many means, but a sin­gle spy in the right place and at the right mo­ment may change the course of his­tory.”

Wil­liam Christie is to be com­mended and con­grat­u­lated for “A Sin­gle Spy,” a work that casts bru­tal light on the strange twi­light world of spies, es­pe­cially on one who in­deed plays the role of the lone wolf. It is book that is dif­fi­cult to put down and Alexsi, the spy at its cen­ter, is in­deed a mem­o­rable crea­ture even if he is part mon­ster.

As Mr. Christie writes, Alexsi sim­ply sees the world dif­fer­ently. “[H]e didn’t care a fig for Com­mu­nism or Stalin or world rev­o­lu­tion. He worked for them be­cause he had to — he’d al­ways done what he had to.”

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