Turns out I didn’t pay much attention to John le Carre’s example after all. When the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, critics wrote opinions on le Carre’s continued relevance. “He writes spy stories about the Cold War. The Cold War is over; ergo, what will he do?” they wondered. “Is this the end of his writing career?” they pondered.
Yes, le Carre is recognized as probably the best Cold War spy writer (in his case, literally) for the period, but he was also adaptable. Yes, the Cold War was over, but he moved on to writing about shady bankers, Russian Oligarchs, arms dealers, Islamic terrorism, and topics that showed parts of the Cold War, namely the rivalry between the west and Russia, never really ended.
And his post-Cold War work was as rich, as detailed, as engaging as anything he wrote during the Cold War. He moved on to fresher topics and was as good as ever.
But the Cold War Still Fascinates
The Cold War in some ways still drives American foreign policy, well, except for the last four years, when we gave Russia a free hand to do whatever it wanted. The rivalries among intelligence agencies were established then; expectations were at times clear-cut even if espionage itself works in the gray areas; the same methods and techniques are still used, though updated for the time.
And let’s not forget the continual misuse of the words “socialism” and “communism” as entities trying to “take over” our government.
Post-Cold War, Western intelligence agencies turned away from gathering HUMINT, human intelligence, in favor of electronic surveillance from CCTV, satellites, and drones. But the Russians didn’t. They didn’t send a drone after Sergei Skripal, a defector living in Salisbury, England. They send two operatives, who sprayed Skripal’s doorknob with Novichok, a nerve agent. Almost three decades after the Cold War supposedly ended, they used a decidedly Cold War technique to punish Skripal for defecting.
That’s why the Cold War should never be too far from our minds.
Why is My New Novel a Cold War Story?
Because I’m both an historian and a child of the Cold War. I didn’t study the Cold War specifically in college—it was still going on, and I concentrated on the period between the world wars—but I lived through it. The most significant memory of my childhood is the Cuban Missile Crisis and our “duck-and-cover” drills at school.
The spy fiction written then or presented on television was rich with good vs evil, right vs wrong. The lengths to which the KGB and the CIA would go to out-do each other will be the fodder for fiction for a long time, well past the three decades beyond the Soviet Union. And I turned to it for my newest novel, Love Death.
Even though most of the action in Love Death takes place in the year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has its beginnings in 1958, touches on the beginning of the Berlin Wall, touches on KGB-fueled protests in Europe in the 1970s, and culminates in the destruction of a chemical weapons lab hidden in a pesticides factory.
The Cold War was also about everyday people, those divided by a wall, those chosen to spy for their country, those who tried to reform socialism for the benefit of the proletariat. Representations of those common people show up in Love Death.
Yet, beneath it all, Love Death is very much a love story, but one you’re not expecting, and a love story for the Cold War itself, a time vivid in my memory and unforgettable.
Love Death is now available for your Kindle or Kindle app or in paperback HERE.