Cold Warriors rejoice! A major fix for your addiction has arrived!
Okay, I’m being tongue in cheek, but “Of Our Own Device” has pretty much everything readers longing for a hit of classic Cold War spy fiction could want. Plus a bunch more. It’s a big, sprawling book covering the Gorbachev era and the last years of the DDR, full of intrigue, double-crossing, deep cover operatives, and a very hot romance between CIA operative Jack and Eton, the Russian student he’s been assigned to recruit.
So yeah. It’s a bit like a John Le Carre novel meets “Brokeback Mountain.” If you are a fan of Cold War thrillers, or just like reading about the perestroika era, “Of Our Own Device” will have plenty for you to enjoy. The descriptions of 1980s Moscow and Berlin are chock-a-block full of period detail, making you feel as if you’re ducking in and out of metro stations and dodging Ladas and Zhigulis on the rainy streets right along with Jack, as he sneaks off to semi-sanctioned trysts with Eton. The major events and concerns of the late ’80s are all there too, and even though we now know how it all turned out, you can’t help but wonder and worry along with the characters over the arms race, nuclear winter, and Chernobyl. And then there’s the vibrant semi-underground late-Soviet rock scene, of which Eton is a part: he’s torn between becoming a nuclear physicist or a rock musician, and frequents both worlds, getting firsthand reports about the Chernobyl disaster while also rubbing shoulders with the likes of Boris Grebenshchikov and the members of Kino (I may have emitted a faint yip of joy at that part, I was so excited to see Viktor Tsoi et al. in fictional “person”).
If this sounds like some kind of nostalgic fanfic, there is a certain element of that: there’s plenty for late-Soviet devotees to check off while nodding contentedly to themselves. But the book is much more than a checklist of names and events, telling as it does against this background what you might call the ultimate story of forbidden love. Jack is a brash, smooth-talking, good-looking Wyoming cowboy who’s supposed to be such a quintessentially loud American that no one would ever take him for a CIA operative. At the same time, he leads a second double life as a bisexual at a time when that was considered to be a major security risk, and has to keep his real inclinations secret even as he’s ordered to use his esoteric skill set to seduce Eton, a suspected homosexual in a country where being gay was even more taboo than in the US. Jack isn’t conflicted about his sexuality, but he is increasingly conflicted about the duplicity it demands of him, as well as the risk it entails for others: he is supposed to seduce Eton, who may or may not be a KGB agent, flirt with their mutual friend Lara, and maintain flamboyantly obvious relationships with CIA-approved female American partners. Jack is a pretty self-centered guy in the beginning of the novel, but as his attachment to Eton grows, so does his awareness that the games he’s playing have real consequences for other people.
As might be guessed from the preceding description, there’s a lot to this book, and like Jack and Eton’s relationship, it starts off slowly. A super-quick read it’s not, but it successfully immerses the reader in its time period and in the heads of its main characters, and as the tension between Jack and Eton builds, so does the suspense. Readers in the historical know will be acutely aware of the major events looming for the unsuspecting characters, and may be hard pressed not to scream at them that they just need to hang on a little longer, just a little bit longer. The last few chapters, set in Berlin in the fall of 1989, are, like the time itself, breathlessly, nail-bitingly chaotic, as the characters scheme and race to get on the right side of a wall that’s about to come down. A definite recommendation for fans of spy fiction, Soviet history buffs, and readers looking for an intense M/M love story.
My thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Want your own copy? Get it here: Of Our Own Device
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One thought on ““Of Our Own Device” by M.K. South”
Exceptionally insightful review! Thank you so much, E.P.!
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