Tag Archives: Valdimir Putin

Off piste – not The Man Booker

Two other books I have completed are neither of them alternatives to the Man Booker Longlist. Tracy Borman‘s first novel, The King’s Witch is possibly the start of an historical trilogy and Red Sparrow is a spy story.

Red SparrowJason Matthews, the author of Red Sparrow, was once in the CIA, so like Ian Fleming and John le Carré, he writes about something he knows intimately: spying against the Russians.  The Cold War while technically over, continues to fascinate readers and writers alike. This book is set in present day Russia and comes with glowing recommendations from various sources. It is American, unlike the other two authors cited. The story is gripping and the book an absolute page turner. A riveting novel, for me it slightly disappoints because there is an element of magic involved.

One of the main characters, the eponymous heroine, is a synesthete – this is a relatively rare condition in which the person emotionally sees and feels everything in colour, Domenika however, is an extreme case and can also “see” personal auras, which gives away the moods and feelings of the people she is with. And here is my problem – whether or not such a condition exists, in a spy novel this capacity becomes part of the toolkit and for me that makes it magical.

Everything else is as one would hope: suspenseful, alarming and first rate. And there is another novel to follow this one, and naturally a major motion picture to be released!

BormanThe King’s Witch [hopefully the first of three novels, which is suggested in one of the tributes] is set just at the point at which Elizabeth I dies and James I of England and VI Scotland arrives on the throne of England.

As history relates, this was a difficult time for Catholics and for healers.  James had a phobia about both and many, many innocent women died as a result of his obsession with witchcraft, and the machinations of his sycophantic disciple, Robert Cecil, eventually created Baron, Earl of Salisbury as a reward for delivering both Catholics and witches to the evils of torture, burning and disembowelment.

Frances Gorges ( e pronounced as in Ganges) is a young woman, a herbalist and daughter to two secret Catholics.  Longford Castle in Wiltshire is their family home, still standing and now owned by the Pleydell-Bouverie family. She becomes, against her wishes, companion to Elizabeth, the daughter of James I and Anne of Denmark, but she is caught up in the web of fear, conspiracy, suspicion and licentiousness that dominates James I’s court.

Tracy Borman has filled in the gaps of this remarkable story, with a believable ingenuity. The characters all exist in the historical sense, quite how strong and to what extent their relationships follow exactly this pattern, is part of the craft of historical fiction writing. Like Hilary Mantel, the research is thorough, the inspiration and imagination still abides by certain rules, but expands and elaborates for the enormous benefit of the readers


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Something rotten…

In Act 1, Scene iv of Hamlet, the appearance of King Hamlet’s ghost prompts an officer of the watch, Marcellus, to say “something is rotten at the heart of Denmark”, if you replace Denmark with Russia, then the book I am posting on now, will tell you why.

Red Notice by Bill Browder reads like a typical Russian thriller, the difference is that this is non-fiction. For what he did and why he did it, and lastly for the reasons for this book, Bill Browder takes full responsibility, and because this led to the death of a good man, and led to Bill becoming Number 1 enemy of Russia, this book above all, in one that you should read.

BrowderIt is not often that I put a large chunk of quoted text at the beginning of a blog…

I have to assume that there is a very real chance that Putin or members of his regime will have me killed some day. Like anyone else, I have no death wish and I have no intention of letting them kill me. I can’t mention most of the counter-measures I take, but I will mention one: this book. If I’m killed, you will know who did it. When my enemies read this book, they will know that you know. So if you sympathize with this search for justice, or with Sergei’s tragic fate, please share this story with as many people as you can. That simple act will keep the spirit of Sergei Magnitsky alive and go further that any army of bodyguards in keeping me safe.

With today’s internet reach, you will be able to follow the steps that led to Sergei Magnitsky’s torture and death by the simple act of clicking on Google; you can look at YouTube videos of some of the perpetrators if you click on Pavel Karpov or Artem Kuznetsov; I think you could even click on the name Alexander Perepilichnyy and something will come up.

But to link all these names together with Bill Browder, you need to read the book.

Bill Browder started life as a man with a mission: to make money, as much and as fast as he could, and he looked to Eastern Europe as a place where that ambition could be realised. Naively, though, what he did not realise is that sometimes making huge amounts of money in Eastern Europe, especially in Russia, does not always go according to plan.

What happened to Hermitage Capital Management, then to his investors but tragically to the lawyers who helped him, is the stuff of nightmares and turned Bill Browder from a capitalist super-rich hedge fund manager into a human rights activist.

Once his lawyers were being targeted, Bill Browder did everything he could to persuade them to leave Russia, two of them made it out safely, but Sergei Magnitsky determined to fight on as “he had done nothing wrong”. But doing nothing wrong is not enough to keep you out of the hands of those who wish to do you harm: Sergei was arrested, subjected to unlimited cruelty and medical neglect and finally beaten to death.

From this black and terrible seed there has arisen a mighty tree.  The United States of America have passed The Magnitsky Act, this act prevents anyone on The Cardin List (the Senator who proposed the Bill) from travelling to America and was signed by President Obama.

Sergei Magnitsky had a young family, as has Bill Browder, if reading their story does anything at all, it will serve as a monument to the appalling situation in Russia, for Putin’s riposte to America’s passing of The Magnitsky Act went beyond even the bounds of cruelty – he passed an act that prevents any American family from adopting a Russian orphan…thereby condemning millions of innocent children to a life that will be short, brutal and miserable.

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