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

3.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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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 the Paperback edition.

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 the Paperback edition.
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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: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,561,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
if you are into mysteries and solving great mystery novels this is a decent one sided account of what is going on. I myself like a more well rounded view from different angles if i am trying to solve a great mystery
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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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition
I heard about this book listening to NPR (like I do every day to and from work), and I was intrigued by the premise of a Cold War-eque murder in the heart of London...over a decade after the Cold War ended. I was not disappointed.

Alan Cowell's writing conveys depth of emotion, without diving into predetermined bias. He weaves together interviews, supposition, background research and historical context with ease and familiarity. I will readily admit that I turned to a dictionary (app) more times while reading this book than I have in years. Because Cowell treats the reader as a seasoned viewer of international espionage and politics; you are deep in the chaos with him.

For those not used to reading Russian literature, the overload of unfamiliar Russian names and culture may shake you out of the story, but stay strong because it's just getting good. Like any good pseudo-crime novel, the reader will be on the edge of their seat at the climax and denouement of Litvinenko's sad tale winds down.
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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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