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The Terminal Spy: A True Story of Espionage, Betrayal and Murder Audio CD – Abridged, Audiobook

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The 2006 poisoning of the former KGB agent turned dissident Alexander Litvinenko by radioactive polonium captured the world's imagination. In this less than crystalline account, New York Times London bureau chief Cowell plays up the spy-thriller intrigue. Building Litvinenko almost into a miniseries protagonist—he was [h]usband, father, traitor, whistleblower, son, spy, lover, fugitive—Cowell recaps his career as a KGB functionary and then critic of Russia's postcommunist kleptocracy; his relationship with tycoon Boris Berezovsky; his exile in London's murky Russian expat community and outspoken attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he denounced, from his deathbed, as his killer. Cowell's analysis of the crime and the investigation, especially his retracing of the tell-tale trail of polonium, is repetitive and often confusing. He characterizes the murder sometimes as a brazen act of nuclear terrorism intended to restart the Cold War, sometimes as a careful, surreptitious hit. The question of whodunit—Putin? Berezovsky? vengeful KGB veterans? Russian businessmen exposed by Litvinenko's private sleuthing? to protect the Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, of all people?—flounders inconclusively among competing conspiracy theories. Cowell relishes the mystery of the case, but doesn't dispel it. (Aug. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Written by a New York Times foreign correspondent, this work investigates the November 2006 murder of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko. Briefly an international incident because of the murder weapon—polonium 210—the case opened a window onto the dark side of post–Soviet Russian politics, through which Cowell enterprisingly casts his gaze as far as evidence and reasonable inference permit. From interviews with Litvinenko’s circle and with the Russians in Britain, where the crime occurred, officially charged with killing him, Cowell smokes out possible machinations behind the murder. Suggesting that Russia’s power alignment led by President Vladimir Putin held grudges against Litvinenko, Cowell delves both into Litvinenko’s career in the KGB and its domestic successor, the FSB, and into his associations with Putin enemy Boris Berezovsky. Cowell then discusses the forensics of Litvinenko’s fatal final meeting with fellow graduates of the Russian secret service, detailing the discovery of widespread radioactive contamination that matched up with the movements of the victim and the suspects. A comprehensive inquiry. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Abridged edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739370545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739370544
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.2 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,556,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan S. Cowell is a journalist. Since 2008 he has been Senior Correspondent for NYTimes.com based in Paris. Cowell began his journalism career as a reporter for British newspapers and the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. He joined Reuters in 1972 and The New York Times in 1981. His reporting has covered Turkey, the Middle East, Africa, Greece, Egypt, Italy, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

In 1985, Cowell won the George Polk Award and was nominated for a Pulitzer prize for foreign reporting. He is the author of Killing the Wizards -- Wars of Power and Freedom from Zaire to South Africa; A Walking Guide: A Novel; The Terminal Spy: The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko; and The Paris Correspondent: A Novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko -- poisoned by polonium in a cup of a tea in an English hotel six years after he had sought political asylum there -- has been covered in at least four books of which I'm aware. This strikes me as the best of the bunch so far, although the definitive history of Putin's Russia has yet to be written. (Perhaps the reason for that can be found in some of the contents of the book itself, including the events leading up to Litvinenko's death.

Deprived of the classic ending to this true-life crime -- an arrest and trial of the individuals responsible -- Cowell overcompensates with a mass of detail about everything from the lives of Russian expatriates in London to the history of polonium and other radioactive poisons. Sometimes these digressions work; on other occasions they distract. (Does the side story about the photographer who snapped the picture of Litvinenko really warrant more than two or three sentences? I suspect not.) But Cowell does a far better job of weaving together those elements that are necessary for a reader to understand why the Putin regime might have wanted Litvinenko dead. On the surface, it isn't that simple to understand; he was obviously a maverick and not taken very seriously by most people with whom he came in contact. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, for instance, was a far more formidable opponent: probably why she was murdered only months before Litvinenko. Cowell suggests that once Litvinenko began to draw attention to financial shenanigans of Kremlin officials, his fate was sealed; that, he argues, may be the Achilles heel of the regime.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James D. Crabtree VINE VOICE on October 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Litvinenko, a former KGB officer and a Russian expat, died in 2006 of exposure to a rare radioactive element. Alan Cowell takes apart the life of Litvinenko and shows who he was, and who he was not, in order to figure out who killed him and why. The former KGB agent had been in the Russian FSB and blown the lid off corruption there and extralegal activities, he had served as an interrogator during the First Chechen War and was friends with one of the biggest of the post-Communist capitalists who looted Russia following the USSR's collapse. Add to this the fact that Litvinenko had apparently made an enemy of Vladimir Putin prior to his rise to power and the story becomes a murky one which takes time to pick apart and figure out.

A good book but not an easy read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Book lover -Philadelphia on November 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The story of (former KGB agent) Litvinenko's poisoning (in London) via a rare radioactive element should be fascinating. Unfortunately, Mr. Cowell has chosen to tell the tale in fits and starts, going from character to character and back and forth in time. It just doesn't flow, which is a shame since this (almost) unique event in spying is intrinsically interesting, had a huge impact on Britain's relations with Russia, caused a panic in London as the radioactivity was traced and caused several spy services to rethink their procedures. In addition, while Mr. Cowell has clearly done his research and provides details on the characters - including the murderer - he doesn't make them come alive so the book seems flat.

I have to say that this non-fiction effort was so poor that it makes me want to go back to really good fictional spies....
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jedrury VINE VOICE on August 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a page turner, a "can't put down" thriller of the London murder of Alexander Litvinenko on November 1, 2006. Thoroughly researched, carefully thought through, all its nuances and angles and dark pockets are explored and analysed leaving the reader satisfied but wide awake at night suffering from the heebie jeebies.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. Cerne on April 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The book does a good job of covering Litvinenko's life and a good job of covering recent Russian politics. The drawback is the journalistic style of the book. There is poor use of foreshadowing, much repitition, and quite a bit of time spent on the author. Still worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By HoustonDiva on February 27, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Remember what Churchill said about Russia? A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. That describes the convoluted currents that make up the brilliant Terminal Spy, a must read for anyone obsessed with fathoming the new - or new old - Russia of the past few decades.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Colin J. Edwards on November 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Terminal Spy
By Alan S. Cowell

Published by Doubleday 2008 $26.95 432 pps.

A Review by Colin J. Edwards

A True Story of Espionage, Betrayal and Murder.

The Terminal Spy is an intrigue with a Russian theme where the unspeakable do horrid things to the unpronounceable. I tend to confuse my ...skayas, with my ...oviches, and by the time I have sorted those out I have lost the plot. Mr Cowell anticipated my, and perhaps others dilemma, and opens his book with Dramatis Personae. This introduces us to 40 principle characters. I respectfully suggest that the reader studies these three and a bit pages as it will greatly enhance comprehension of the remaining 430.

Cowell's work is at once an important and rewarding example of detailed investigative reporting. Important because it reveals how a foreign (I was tempted to say hostile), country carried out a successful nuclear attack on London, Britain's capital city. Rewarding because it reads like a fiction spy thriller. It will come as no surprise to the reader to learn that Alan Cowell is an experienced and accomplished journalist and citizen of the world. He is `at-home' in London Paris or New York, and has vast experience of the Middle East and Africa.

The Terminal Spy is a dissection, in the minutest detail of the evidence pertaining to the calculated murder in broad daylight of Alexander Litvinenko at London on November 1st 2006. It is the manner of this murder and why, that makes this volume a page turner par excellence.

No one has been brought before the courts for this crime, but by the end of the book there can be no doubt of the identity of the culprit and his accomplices.

The book is very well written.
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