Lenin’s Roller Coaster
The title of this third Jack McColl spy thriller is an apt metaphor for what is to come: a dizzying ride through the Russian Revolution and its loops and curves into WWI politics. The central character, Jack McColl, is a British spy whose assignments take him through Egypt, Persia, Ukraine, and ultimately to Moscow. His primary task is to derail the German advance into Russia. Caitlin Hanley is an American journalist and McColl’s love interest. Her itinerary includes a voyage to Petrograd via Finland, time at home in New York City, and a return trip to Moscow via China and the trans-Siberian railway. She is a devout feminist and champion of the Revolution. Her personal mission is to make the English-speaking world aware of its goals and progress.
Chapters alternate between McColl and Caitlin as they make their way to Moscow. Each is a little short story with a plot of its own. Most chapters capture the confusion, brutality, despair, and deceit that accompany wartime. Others, though, manage to convey the sense of hope and optimism in revolutionary Russia that American readers rarely hear about.
This novel has a lot to be said in its favor. It is literally packed with historical information and detailed place descriptions. Characters who were real people, e.g., Alexandra Kolontai and Maria Spiridonova, may be new to readers and interesting to learn about. On the downside, the book is terribly disjointed. There really is no plot to it. Perhaps McColl’s & Caitlin’s “romance” (they meet twice in the whole story) was meant to pull it together, but it serves more as a non-too-credible frame for the historical data. I would not recommend the book as a memorable spy thriller, but it’s well worth reading for a fresh look at the Russian Revolution.