The Soul of Viktor Tronko

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

After a surprise visit from an old friend and former CIA agent, hero Michael Kessler finds himself investigating the story of Viktor Tronko, a mysterious defector from Russia. The story is upsetting--and unfinished. Kessler’s old friend is murdered and the veteran reporter leaves his budding love interest Nora Walsh and his job for a trip to Washington, D.C. There, he meets with Claude Sparrow, the disgraced former CIA Director of Counterintelligence, who places Tronko at the heart of a stunning story laced with the poisons of a high-level CIA penetration and a Russian disinformation campaign to protect their mole and wipe out any suspicion about a KGB link with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Before Kessler can arrive at some extremely unsettling conclusions with far-reaching implications, however, his sources are murdered--and his life is threatened. He has to learn a dangerous lesson, vividly painted, about superpower intrigue: In Quammen’s post-Watergate America, no less disturbing than Russian ruthlessness are tortuous CIA methods of interrogation (Tronko is confined for three years in an empty concrete cell) and the dubious ethics of American covert actions.

THE SOUL OF VIKTOR TRONKO fascinates not just because of its finely woven plot and dash of Athol Fugard and Alexander Pushkin but also because of Quammen’s mastering of his background. His latest spy thriller comes complete with such delectable morsels as the latest Russian fashion in spectacles and the layout of the third floor of the KGB’s Lubyanka building. The many cameo appearances by real persons from the global world of intrigue are skillfully handled and help create the book’s flavorful mixture of the real and the imaginative.