In AT THE HIGHEST LEVELS: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE END OF THE COLD WAR (1993), journalists Michael R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbot reveal that officials high in the American and Soviet governments were apprenhensive during 1989-1991 about the impending end of the Cold War, fearful of new forms of chaos. The CIA and KGB agents imagined by John Griffiths have less altruistic motives, concerned more with their potential loss of power.
When Adam Kalugin was a teenager, Zaitsev, an officer in Soviet domestic intelligence, tortured him as part of a harassment campaign against Kalugin’s dissident sister, who eventually committed suicide. Zaitsev later defects, and Kalugin joins the KGB with the understanding that when Zaitsev is tracked down he will be given the assignment of killing his enemy.
Kalugin is sent to London to infiltrate the Knights of Vladimir, a group of Ukrainian exiles who long to restore their native country’s independence. He falls in love with Chance Davenport, a researcher for a freedom foundation fronted by the CIA, and they discover that their bosses have conspired to sacrifice the Knights and hundreds of innocent Ukranians, blame the American government, and rekindle the hatred between the two superpowers. Kalugin must return to the Soviet Union to stop the conspiracy — which, of course, involves Zaitsev.
Griffiths, whose previous novel, THE GOOD SPY (1990), focuses on a KGB agent undercover in America, has created an ecomonically written, credible adventure. It is flawed only by Chance’s being too perfect to be true, especially with that ridiculous name, and by Kalugin’s taking far too long to figure out how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.