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Lenin's Roller Coaster (A Jack McColl Novel) Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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Praise for Lenin's Roller Coaster
"[A] splendid saga of espionage during the Great War.... Downing is a master of action... [He] also slips in plenty of historical reality – women’s suffrage, revolutionary hopes, progressive politics, Irish nationalism – without ever losing sight of the story."
—The Globe and Mail
“Downing is a master at grabbing the historical moment and holding it close, and he brings the tempestuous revolutionary era to vivid life here, setting it against what appears to be a doomed love story.”
—Bill Ott, Booklist
"A sensitive yet action-packed novel of conflict both on international and interpersonal levels."
—Bruce Tierney, BookPage
"History buffs and espionage fiction fans will enjoy this entertaining novel, which might also make a good choice for book groups commemorating the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution."
Praise for the Jack McColl novels
“Downing is a master at bringing little-known history to light and building great plots around it. It helps that he knows how to pace a story and develop characters that stay in the mind. Can’t wait for the next episode.”
—The Globe and Mail
“[Downing] is a master at bringing the past to life through the careful and often
loving observation of even minor players and through the artful deployment of specific detail. In addition, Jack McColl’s debut has a zest, an exoticism and a joie de vivre well-suited to an era when best sellers were being written by Zane Grey, suffragettes were demanding the vote, and opium parlors were a readily accessible temptation.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Engrossing . . . Comparisons to W. Somerset Maugham’s classic stories about Ashenden, another gentleman spy, are well deserved.”
—The Seattle Times
“Downing reaffirms his place as one of the finest espionage writers with this engaging historical thriller.”
—Bruce Tierney, BookPage, Top Pick in Mystery
“A brilliant historical portrait and a captivating love story to boot. A remarkably engaging world tour of pre–World War One espionage featuring an honorable protagonist begging for a long series.”
—Lyndsay Faye, author of The Fatal Flame
“Moves along briskly and offers interesting facts about events now a century past.
It’s always entertaining.”
—The Washington Post
About the Author
David Downing grew up in suburban London. He is the author of two other Jack McColl novels, Jack of Spies and One Man’s Flag; the thriller The Red Eagles; and six books in the John Russell espionage series, set in WWII Berlin: Zoo Station, Silesian Station, Stettin Station, Potsdam Station, Lehrter Station, and Masaryk Station. He lives with his wife, an American acupuncturist, in Guildford, England.
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Top customer reviews
Several real historical figures make their appearance, most notably Alexandra Kollontai the leading feminist of the Russian Revolution who would found the Women’s Department in 1919. She and Caitlin are soulmates. In Moscow McColl runs into Sidney Riley, the Ace of Spies while plotting to overthrow Lenin’s regime. How McColl ends up in Moscow is an adventure in of itself. Through the eyes of both Henry and McColl we see the growing role of the Cheka (secret police) in the day-to-day lives of urban Russia; a portent of things to come.
Given their ideological differences and their long periods of geographical separation cause by the war, it remains to be seen whether or not their romance will survive. We await Downing’s next book, if there is one, to see if they make a go of it.
In the midst of this fluid and uncertain situation, Jack McColl, a Scot employed by the nascent Secret Service (MI6), enters the country on a mission to help undermine the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, his unlikely lover, Irish-American journalist Caitlin Handley, is in Russia reporting on the Revolution. Caitlin is a radical with friends among the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. This is the premise on which Lenin’s Roller Coaster is based. It’s the third novel in David Downing’s series featuring Jack and Caitlin.
Somehow, in an earlier book in the series, the two fell in love in the midst of a Secret Service operation in Ireland. There, they were on different sides, too. In fact, Jack was responsible for the death of Caitlin’s younger brother, Colm, who “had been hanged in the Tower of London two years earlier, after taking part in an Irish Republican plot to sabotage the transporting of British troops to France. McColl had caught and arrested him, albeit after offering to let him escape.” Improbably, Caitlin is well aware of Jack’s role in Colm’s death and fell in love with him, anyway.
Mansfield Cumming (the original “C” of MI6) has sent Jack to Russia with vague orders to connect with other agents already in place there. Cumming explains, “Our job is to shore up what’s left of the Eastern Front and prevent the Germans and Turks from exploiting the Russian collapse.”
Lenin’s Roller Coaster relates Jack and Caitlin’s experiences as they make their way to Moscow with painful slowness. Jack enters from the south, through Iran. Caitlin’s route takes her to Vladivostok on Russia’s easternmost coast, then westward on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Both trips take many weeks and expose the lovers to repeated danger. While Downing’s description of the Russian Revolution as it unfolded across the vast expanse of the country is fascinating from an historical standpoint, the slow progression of the plot is tedious. The book works well as historical fiction, not so well as a thriller.