(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Robert Littell ranks among the most admired and widely read practitioners of the espionage genre, fiction that deals with the secretive, often dangerous world of spying. In The Company: A Novel of the CIA (2002), he cleverly fused an array of imagined characters and actual historical figures in order to create a history of American and Soviet postwar espionage. Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation deals once again with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its interactions with Russians, but this time focusing on the period after the Cold War, from 1987 through 1997.

Martin Odum, the central character in Legends, is a man with a singular problem. A former operative with the CIA, he is unable to discern which one of his legends—the identities he used as a spy—is real. There is Dante Pippen, the former bomber for the Irish Republican Army with his lilting brogue; Lincoln Dittmann, the expert marksman and Civil War expert; Jozef Kafkor, a Polish-born Canadian citizen; and finally Martin himself. When a mysterious Russian émigré proposes that he track down her brother-in- law so that her sister can obtain an Orthodox Jewish divorce, Odum inadvertently finds himself “walking back the cat,” CIA parlance for tracing a clandestine operation back to its source. For Martin, it means that his mission to find Samat Ugor-Zhilov becomes a quest to learn what forced him from the agency and shattered him into multiple personalities.

From the violent world of Russian gangsters to a vivid description of the American Civil War battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia, Robert Littell is that rare breed of writer who can blend such diverse topics into a convincing and entertaining tale. Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation will delight fans of espionage fiction and general readers alike.