Jeremy Duns' The Moscow option is not a great piece of fiction though the story seems exciting enough. The novel is the third in a series about Duns' British spy turned Russian agent Paul Dark. The novel opens in 1969 when Dark is summoned to a meeting in a Soviet bunker, it appears that the West are about to attack Moscow, and Brezhnev is eager to release the missiles first. Dark realises that there has ben a terrible mix-up and goes on the run with his girlfriend in tow, the KGB and GRU in hot pursuit, desperate to stop the outbreak of nuclear armageddon.

It's not particularly well written. There are some cinematic action sequences that are confusing, Dark has more lives than Blofeld's cat, and the characterisation is poor. I neither believed in the motivation of the villain or thought that any of his actions were at all credible. There was a LOT of back story. Interesting enough for anyone like me who hadn't read the earlier books, but I think it would have driven a fan nuts. And the story itself, except for the central nuclear / chemical weapons theme was also pretty silly. It's all very well attempting to suspend disbelief, but can I honestly believe that two prisoners just released from the Lubyanka can drive across Russia and escape across the border with no papers, proper clothes, or money except for a small amount pinched from a toy store. The answer is obviously no, this is just plain impossible.

So I am naturally going to tell you to avoid this rubbish like the plague. Well actually no, I'm not. In fact I think you should go to the nearest library and get a copy immediately. Not for the novel, which is not that good; but for the author's notes. They made some of the scariest reading I have ever read.

Who needs horror stories when you can have the truth behind the Cold War. Did you know that there were several instances where we came to the brink of World War III? One particularly nasty moment was when President Nixon thought that it was a good idea to send a squadron of B-52s armed with thermonuclear missiles in attack formation over the North Pole as though they were about to attack the USSR; and then there was the little incident of a B-52 crashing in Greenland, not to mention Operation Able Archer, the well known NATO military exercise of the 1980s, which convinced the Russians that they were about to be attacked.

If brinkmanship, sabre rattling and some seriously crazy behaviour didn't get us annihilated, there was the little matter of large quantities of chemical weapons dumped in the Baltic Sea which periodically rose to the surface and gave beach lovers a nasty surprise. I seem to remember something similar being washed up on the coast of East Anglia last year. The novel is ephemeral, but the facts behind it are chilling. For all of us who lived in the shadow of the Cold War we can count ourselves very lucky that against all odds we are still here.


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