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November Echo: An Aleksandr Talanov thriller Paperback – November 1, 2013
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From the Author
November Echo is not about biological weapons. It is about a Soviet scientist wanting to escape the horrors of having to engineer them. It is about the man who tracked him down -- Colonel Aleksandr Talanov of the KGB -- and what happens when he is betrayed. It is a look into the soul of a man whose world collapses, and the teenage girl who inspired his rise. It's a story about loss, and struggle and triumph. But triumph at a cost.
I have personally studied a lot of history. In the course of my education, I've memorized the names of countries, empires, leaders, battles and treaties. But much of it held little meaning because I never connected with the people -- the participants -- and what they went through.
A benchmark experience for me was Saving Private Ryan. That film took me into the lives of the soldiers who fought to save Private Ryan. As such, it made World War II come alive for me in ways it never had. The film didn't try to accomplish everything. It didn't try to cover the sweep of World War II and what caused it. Its focus was clearly on the people who gave their lives saving one man.
November Echo is such a story. And while I give you a taste of what a biological weapon can do to a person -- how it rots and devours a human body from the inside -- this was ultimately not my goal. My goal was bringing Talanov alive to you by recording the incident that caused him to become a deep-cover spy for America. We meet him as the cocky KGB colonel that he was, including his use of the "Bondesque" extravagance typical of the eighties. We see what happens when the proverbial rug is yanked from beneath his feet, and in a single moment, everything changes. We witness his clever plan to catch a defector and how his own plan was used against him.
In the original draft of this book was a passage I had to cut because it interrupted the flow of the story. I will include it here because it explains how Talanov's own strengths were used against him.
The deadliest lies are half-truths and the greatest stealth is openness. Do them well and your enemy will not see you coming. But victory over an enemy is sometimes lost in the final hour, when a hero rises to reverse the tide of defeat. Many tacticians think killing the hero solves the problem. It does not. The death of a hero can inspire victory. The key: dishearten the hero. Do it well and you poison the hero's resolve. Do it well and the hero kills himself.
So, while November Echo is the story of Talanov's fall, it is ultimately the story of his rise and the teenage girl who inspired him. It's a vignette into his life that sets the stage for the man he becomes in a series of thrillers I hope you enjoy.
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The backdrop for the story is the intended defection of a leading scientist, Dr. Gorev, who worked with Bio-weapons such as Anthrax, in violation of the 1972 treaty that banned their production, stockpiling, or use. he was bringing his wife, daughter, and parents with him. The American spies, of course, were helping him defect, even though they did not know about the biological weapons situation in the USSR. Colonel Talanov was tasked with bringing the doctor and his family back to the USSR. He had no intention of killing them, or anyone else during this job. However, there were others who had other ideas; about Talanov, about Dr. Gorev and his family, and even about the biological agents being created and carried.
The story is fast-paced, and in some ways, does not seem like a standard "spy" novel. That is largely because Colonel Talanov is not a normal spy. He is very astute in human behavior, and uses methods that one probably would not expect from a Soviet spy. In particular, for this mission he was playing a rich international playboy of sorts. This made him very visible to the spy community of every side, which is what he wanted. Talanov is a master of magical illusion or subterfuge, where he gets everyone to look over here while he accomplishes his actual goal over there. While this is happening, others are playing a similar game with him that he does not realize. This story is about how all those differing missions and cross-purposes collide.
Character development is rather well done, though by being a spy novel, it doesn't all get tossed out in the beginning. Other than Talanov, though, development is more limited to the depth the character to interact with Talanov.
Structurally, the book started out well, but as it went on, spelling, tenses, homonyms and general grammar mistakes occurred with increasing frequency. For me, that is what took this book down from five stars to four. The plot is excellent, the pacing is fast, and you will get pulled in to the situation. Mr. Turner did well with this story, and I could see myself picking up other books involving Colonel Talanov.
Rather like TV’s The Americans, November Echo leaves readers eagerly supporting the enemy while hoping their own side doesn’t fail. But nobody’s perfect, in real life or in this novel; no form of government is perfect either, so there’s plenty of food for thought.
Author James Houston Turner succeeds in creating fight scenes that play out just as convincingly and fast as in the movies. Details are authentic and plausible, injury is inevitable, and time for thought is well-drawn then thrust aside by time for action. Well-tuned history runs alongside the glamor and plot, and well-timed revelations build a powerful character arc as Talanov’s past propels him to his future. I will seek out more of this series with the same determination I applied to collecting the original James Bond novels. This was a really fun read.
Disclosure: I learned it was free and I’m so glad I bought it.
Colonel Talanov does things his own way. Of course, he follows orders from his superiors, but he just leaves them open for interpretation as he uses the tactics and instincts that made him so good in the first place. Sofia is determined to question his every move until he tells her exactly how it is going to be and then issues and ultimatum. Delve into the world of yachting, fine dining, gambling and even a makeover while these two set about the task of locating Dr. Gorev before the United States can grant his family and him asylum. He has a scientific secret that he must not be allowed to share with anyone.
Colonel Talanov has everything figured out. He assembles puzzle pieces that no one else can see and locates Dr. Gorev. He and Sophia get personal and it is a boost to his ego to know that he is teaching her new things. He is so loyal to Russia that his plan is simple: find the scientist and his family and return them to Russia. Sophia seems to be an adequate partner for the task, but can a KGB agent really trust anyone, even if that other person is also an agent?
This is not a book that I would normally read, because of the KGB angle, but I am so glad that I did. Once I got about half way through the book, I stopped seeing the characters as CIA or KGB and starting to relate to them as just people with a job to do. Noya is a particularly interesting young girl who changes Colonel Talanov’s life forever. By the time the story ends, no one is whom they appear to be and most of them behave in ways that they are not supposed to even think about behaving. This a good spy story with elements we expect to see such as greed, murder, and of course money. Houston goes further than that as he brings out the humanity and willingness to sacrifice both jobs and lives in some of his characters, while he reveals that some of them are just plain evil and greedy. The entire city watches as one man changes the hearts of a city and finds his true self in the process.
I love adventure and if you do too, then read this book. As an added plus I also learned a few Russian and Spanish words and phrases since there are both Russian and Spanish characters. Since the book is also set against actual events, just with fictional characters, I learned a bit of history that I was not too familiar to me. I am going to recommend it to my reading buddies and I definitely plan to read his other books.