Book Review: Sasha Plotkins Deceit by Vaughn Sherman

Synopsis:

It is 1972, and the Soviet Union has succeeded in planting a mole in the top echelons of the Central Intelligence Agency. Three years earlier, CIA officer Chris Holbeck took part in a failed mission to engineer the defection of a Soviet KGB officer who may know the mole’s identity.
His name is Sasha Plotkin. When they were both stationed in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1969, Chris and Sasha connected on a personal level. Chris was excited to find a KGB officer interested in changing sides. Then, on the day of the Soviet agent’s defection, Sasha was a no-show. Chris would soon discover the full extent ofSasha Plotkin’s deceit. Now Sasha has resurfaced and wishes to make another attempt to defect. To Chris’ dismay, he is the only CIA officer the man will consent to deal with, even though their once close relationshipis now riddled with mistrust. Chris’s wife, Lisa, has sworn to leave him if he abandons her and the family for one more perilous mission. His alluring young colleague Bisan seems determined to seduce him. Despite the risk to his life and his marriage, Chris answers the call of duty. If Chris succeeds in transporting Sasha to theUnited States–come hell or high water–will the Soviet agent reveal the true identity of the mole? One thing is certain: the lives of the two men will be forever changed.
Sasha Plotkin’s Deceit reads almost as a memoir of a real CIA agent’s life. It is much more than a spy novel. Amid the action and suspense, another drama emerges, based on the relationships between the three main characters—Chris, his wife Lisa, and KGB agent Sasha Plotkin—one of love, friendship, and betrayal. Chris’s love for his neglected wife Lisa. Chris’s burgeoning friendship with Sasha Plotkin, a fascinating, flawed man with a terrible past who gains the personal and professional trust of his American counterpart only to dash that trust to pieces. This betrayal is so much more complicated than it first appears. The ending is at once surprising, uplifting and devastating.

About the Author:

Vaughn Sherman’s career as a fisheries biologist was cut short when he was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. He served long assignments in the Far East and Europe before doing a short tour in Vietnam. After taking early retirement Vaughn joined in numerous community activities, most involving the governance of non-profit agencies and community colleges. In addition to Sasha’s Plotkin’s Deceit, he has written the memoir of a northwest mariner titled An Uncommon Life (1988). He has also published three books dealing with the management of non-profits.

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Book Excerpt:

FRIDAY DAWNED MUCH LIKE THE DAY OF HIS LAST MEETING WITH
PLOTKIN, COLD AND CLEAR WITH NEW SNOW. SUCH A PRETTY DAY THAT THIS TIME HE
RESOLVED NOT TO RETURN TO THE EMBASSY AFTER SIGNALING PLOTKIN AT NK THAT THE
MEETING WAS ON. AFTER THE SAFETY SIGNAL AT TEN O’CLOCK, HE’D GO DIRECTLY
HOME, MAYBE HAVE A CHANCE TO CHAT WITH LISA BEFORE LUNCH.UPON LEAVING THE EMBASSY, HE NOTED THAT THE SUN HADN’T WARMED THE AIR AT
ALL. THE SQUEAKING SNOW UNDER HIS FEET CONFIRMED HOW COLD IT WAS AS HE
WALKED TOWARD HIS CAR. THE SHADOWS FROM THE TREES ALONG STRANDVÄGEN
WEREN’T QUITE AS LONG AS THEY HAD BEEN LAST WEEK AT THIS TIME. STOCKHOLM
WAS ON THE DOWNHILL RIDE TOWARD SPRING. IN THE SCANT HOUR HE’D BEEN AT THE
EMBASSY THE CAR HAD COOLED OFF COMPLETELY. HE LET IT WARM UP BEFORE DRIVING
DOWNTOWN TO WAIT THE FEW MINUTES AT NK FOR PLOTKIN’S SAFETY SIGNAL. NO
POLICEMAN THIS TIME, AND NO PLOTKIN VISIBLE IN THE PARK. BUT THEN HE
HADN’T SEEN PLOTKIN LAST TIME, EITHER.
NEXT HE HEADED WEST FROM THE CITY, TOWARD HOME. CHRIS ENJOYED THE DRIVE AND
WAS FEELING GOOD AS HE SLID TO A STOP IN FRONT OF HIS HOUSE. LISA DIDN’T
REPLY TO HIS CHEERY “HELLO” WHEN HE LET HIMSELF IN THROUGH THE FRONT
DOOR. NOW WHAT? HER ACTIONS WERE SO STRANGE THESE DAYS HE WAS AFRAID SHE
MIGHT HAVE TAKEN OFF WITHOUT PREPARING THE LUNCH FOR PLOTKIN. A WALK THROUGH
THE DINING ROOM TO THE KITCHEN PUT HIS MIND AT EASE. THE TABLE WAS SET, AND
SOUP WAS SIMMERING ON THE STOVE. SHE MUST HAVE WALKED DOWN TO THE SHOPPING
SQUARE FOR SOME LAST MINUTE ITEMS. IT WASN’T YET TEN THIRTY, AND SHE HAD
NO REASON TO EXPECT HIM. HE WENT BACK TO THE FRONT WINDOWS TO LOOK DOWN THE
STREET, ON THE CHANCE THAT HE MIGHT SEE HER WALKING BACK. NO LISA, ONLY A
SKIER HEADING TOWARD DROTTNINGHOLM. THIS CASTLE WAS LOCATED NOT MUCH MORE
THAN A MILE FROM THEIR HOME ACROSS DROTTNINGHOLM BRIDGE. IT WAS A FAVORITE
RESIDENCE OF THE ROYAL FAMILY AND SURROUNDED BY A PARK OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
HE AND LISA HAD SKIED THERE SEVERAL TIMES WITH THE CHILDREN DURING THE
CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS.
AN IDEA STRUCK. CHRIS WENT QUICKLY TO HIS BEDROOM TO CHANGE INTO LONG JOHNS
AND SKI PANTS, THEN TO THE FRONT HALL FOR HIS SKI PARKA, HAT AND MITTENS.
NEXT HE WENT TO THE GARAGE FOR HIS SKIS. HE’D SKI DOWN TO THE SQUARE TO
PICK UP LISA AND COME BACK WITH HER. OUTSIDE THE GARAGE DOOR, HE SLAPPED HIS
SKIS DOWN ON THE NEW SNOW AND FASTENED THE CABLE BINDINGS.
OUT ON THE STREET CHRIS LOOKED IN THE DIRECTION OF THE SQUARE. STILL NO
LISA. NOBODY, IN FACT, ON THE STREET. IN THE OTHER DIRECTION THE SKIER HAD
LONG SINCE DISAPPEARED. AN HOUR SKIING AT DROTTNINGHOLM WOULD PROBABLY DO
HIM MORE GOOD THAN TRYING TO TALK WITH LISA.
FEW PEOPLE WERE OUTDOORS ON THIS WORK AND SCHOOL DAY. IT WAS TERRIBLY COLD,
BUT THE ATMOSPHERE BROUGHT SOME NEEDED PEACE TO CHRIS. HE FELT GOOD. THE
CHILDREN IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD WERE ON SKIS MOST EVERY AFTERNOON. AS HE USED
HIS POLES TO PUSH HIMSELF ALONG AND KEEP HIS BALANCE, HE THOUGHT ABOUT HOW
MISSY AND HER FRIENDS SKIED MERRILY ALONG WITH NO POLES. AH, TO BE YOUNG
AGAIN!
THERE WAS A KNOLL OFF THE BEATEN PATH IN THE PARK WHERE SOMEBODY HAD BUILT A
SMALL SKI JUMP, MAYBE A COUPLE OF FEET HIGH. PROBABLY SOME OF THE OLDER BOYS
WHO LIVED NEARBY. CHRIS THOUGHT ABOUT TRYING IT.
HE’D DO IT.
CLIMBING THE KNOLL TOOK MORE OUT OF HIM THAN HE’D EXPECTED. WHEEZING AT
THE TOP, HE MADE HIS WEEKLY RESOLVE TO START AN EXERCISE PROGRAM. THE KNOLL
WASN’T HIGH, BUT LOOKING DOWN THE RUN TO THE JUMP, IT APPEARED A LOT MORE
IMPRESSIVE THAN FROM THE BOTTOM. WELL, HE HAD BEEN A PRETTY GOOD SKIER
DURING COLLEGE DAYS. THERE WASN’T ANYBODY IN SIGHT TO EMBARRASS HIM IF HE
BOTCHED THE LITTLE JUMP. HE POLED HARD AND HEADED DOWNHILL.
TWO THINGS SURPRISED CHRIS. FIRST, HIS SKIS WERE MUCH FASTER THAN EXPECTED.
WHEN HE STARTED OUT HE ALMOST LOST HIS BALANCE BACKWARDS. THEN, WHEN HE DUG
IN THE POLES AND LAUNCHED HIMSELF ON THE JUMP, HE WENT MUCH HIGHER THAN HE
THOUGHT HE WOULD. IN THE FEW SECONDS HE WAS IN THE AIR HE REALIZED THAT HE
HAD OVERCOMPENSATED FOR THE FIRST MISTAKE. NOW HE WAS LEANING TOO FAR
FORWARD. HE TRIED TO BRING UP THE TIPS OF HIS SKIS AND FAILED, HITTING THE
SNOW WITH THE TIP OF ONE SKI. HE SOMERSAULTED, BOUNCED ON HIS SHOULDERS,
MADE A HALF-ROLL AND CAME TO A STOP WITH HIS RIGHT SKI BURIED IN THE SNOW.
HIS LEG MUST BE BADLY TWISTED, HE THOUGHT. HE MOVED TO UNTANGLE HIMSELF AND
CAME CLOSE TO FAINTING. IT WAS MORE THAN A TWIST, FOR SURE. THE PAIN WAS
AWFUL WHEN HE TRIED TO MOVE.CHRIS LAY BACK, CHILLED, AND FELT THE PANIC START. NOBODY WAS IN SIGHT.

My Review:

If you’re a fan of classic spy fiction then I suggest you get Sasha Plotkin’s Deceit without delay. As I turned the pages of this book I was reminded of some of the best of them. The Le Carré’s, and Deighton’s; of classic East Vs. West espionage, with a troubled hero and an enigmatic foreign operator.
Set predominately in Sweden the story takes place over a number of years at the end of the 1960’s and early 1970’s and Vaughan Sherman brings that time back clearly through the pages of his story. The passage of time is important in the telling of the story and acts as both plot and subplot with the two main characters taking on the bulk of the story without the need for multiple additional identities confusing the reader. That said the vulnerability of Chris’ relationship with his wife is also critical, and well told as a side love story between the two.
I loved the simplicity of the story, it was well told without the author feeling the need to spoil it with unnecessary action to “spice-up” the spy element. There was tension without flash-bang heroics and this made the overall story much more believable than it would have been if the pages had been filled with break-neck action and adventure. The story was not slow however and cracked along at a good pace, keeping me turning the pages until late in the evening on more than one occasion.
I really enjoyed Sasha Plotkin’s Deceit and would recommend it. It holds a good story and makes for a great read.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars – I really liked it.

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2 Responses to Book Review: Sasha Plotkins Deceit by Vaughn Sherman

  1. Fantastic review!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Pingback: Spy Versus Spy in Stockholm | Camel Press

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