The Hard Facts:
Title: Snow Wolf
Author: Glenn Meade
Publisher: St. Martins Pr. , First Edition (May 1996)
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In 1952, Anna Khorev escapes from a gulag and manages to flee over the Finnish border. Jake Massey, a CIA agent convinces the US ambassador to grant a visa to Anna to take her to safety in America against the will of the Communist regime in Russia. There, she is integrated until Jake Massey is introduced into a highly confidential plan of the US secret service: the assassination of Joseph Stalin. His team consists of one of the most skilled killers in the service of the CIA, several contacts on the way to Moscow, and Anna, who agrees to return to Moscow and support the mission with the promise that she will be able to get back her daughter, who was placed in an orphanage upon her and her husband’s arrest. However, Anna is still being followed by Russian agent, who plan to abduct and return her to Russia. While training for their mission in a remote cabin in January 1953, the situation escalates for the first time when the agents attack the camp and burn it down before being killed themselves. Jake Massey decides to start the operation immediately, without informing his superiors and Anna starts her journey back to Europe together with her partner, the killer Alex Slanski. They do not know that the plan was discovered by a second team of Russian agents; when it turns out, Jake’s superiors order him to stop the operation at all cost, even if it means killing the agents on the mission. Meanwhile, Anna and Alex are always a step ahead and travel via Estonia and Finland into Russia. Soon, Russian agents are on their heels and Yuri Lukin is reactivated as an agent to hunt the two down, knowing that his own life is endangered should he fail. Eventually, after Alex and Anna separate in Moscow, Anna is captured and questioned by Yuri, who tries to get all necessary information from her before his sadistic superiors are getting to her. However, Anna stays mum and the hunt for Alex continues, who, in the meantime, has found a safe place with a woman who is going to leave Moscow with Anna hidden in a train transporting furs for a French business man and honorary Russian citizen. In order to free Anna, Alex abducts Yuri’s pregnant wife; during the exchange, Yuri tries to shoot and kill Alex, however both he and Anna manage to escape and find cover at their safe house before planning their respective final missions: Alex to kill Stalin and Anna to free her daughter from the orphanage and once again flee from Russia. In the meantime, the pressure on Yuri to present a success in his mission increases, as his wife is yet again in danger, this time threatened by his own. In a showdown at the safe house, Jake Massey finds himself finally eye to eye with Alex and Anna again; however, he is shot and mortally wounded during the shooting. Alex and Anna leave, chased by Yuri, who has finally found the missing information from Alex’s file and learned why he was put on the case: Alex and he are brothers. After the violet death of both of their parents, Alex, Yuri, and their sister were taken to a orphanage for party-conform re-education, from which Alex escaped and fled into the west. As a macabre and sadistic twist, the highest party leaders determined that his brother should be the one taking Alex down, without even knowing it. Re-united, Alex and Yuri decide to cooperate on their final suicidal mission; however, Alex knocks out Yuri just before they reached Stalin’s country house and Alex enters the compound by himself, disguised as Yuri and with the dead US agent, Jake Massey on his back seat to present to Stalin. Yuri is shocked about his brother having left him, however, he manages to reach the train that is to transport his wife and the other women into safety to Finland. In the meantime, against all odds and expectations, Alex succeeds in his mission killing Stalin before shooting himself to not be captured by the KGB agents. In the wake of the ensuing tumults, the two US agents are removed from the villa and buried in unnamed graves at the cemetery of a nearby monastery to cover up the events.
I read a little on Amazon what others thought about it, and there seemed to have been quite some (avoidable) factual mistakes. Even I wondered how a one-handed guy can so easily ride a motorcycle. But let's give Glenn Meade some literary freedom, won't we? To be honest, I really enjoyed reading this thriller, written from Anna Khorev's point of view, as the tells the story to Jake Massey's son, many decades after the events of 1953. It feels a little unrealistic at times, Meade seems to try a little too hard, and by editing properly and cutting out some bits and pieces here and there would have made the book even a little more cohesive and realistic. The afterword points at the mysterious circumstances of Stalin's death; even his relatives back then question the official cause of death. In general, this book is great for a rainy weekend (or two) with a hot cup of tea. Definitely recommend it, even if you're usually not too much into thrillers (I'm not).