It is 1973 and the dons at Cambridge have decided that they don’t like Martha doing any work towards her degree. When she was caught handing out left-wing political leaflets though, that was the final straw and she was cast out from the university. Her very middle-class parents are embarrassed, especially given the position her father has within the smoke and mirrors of the secret service and decide that she must follow their orders from now on. They line her up for a job as a teacher where she cannot get into trouble or shame them anymore.
To escape from their claustrophobic clutches she hatches a plan with a good friend, Kit. He is just about to be posted to Moscow as a junior diplomat and needs a companion. Unbeknown to both families, Kit is gay and he is hoping that Martha’s presence will deflect suspicion about his sexuality. Their families agree to the marriage and shortly after they are off to the USSR.
The UK seems quite pleasant when compared to 1970s Russia. They are allocated a basic apartment as well as a maid and a driver and Martha is provided with a Russian teacher to help her with the language. There were no maps of the city that were any use so she began to make her own as she walked around the streets, always followed by the KGB. Martha gets used to being followed, finding them easy to spot.
She makes a few friends and starts to mix with the wives of the other men from the embassy. Goes to the opera and cinema and takes another lady’s son out to give her a break. Preferring to continue with her independent streak, she also befriends Eva, who whilst is British, is very much out of favour with the embassy. Her actions are starting to get her noticed and not just by the Russians, she comes home to find the bin contents removed and the beds messed up. But things really start to unravel when she is asked to pass an envelope on to someone.
In Russia, there is no such thing as a coincidence…
Rather than hearing another story of daring do and action, this is about the people that were equally affected by the hostile environment in the Soviet state. Armstrong builds this atmospheric spy thriller and takes us back to the height of the cold war in the 1970s. She builds the subtle relationships between the women well and explores just how the tension of being there eventually affects everyone to a greater or lesser degree. It is a solid, well-crafted plot and paced just right to build the unease in the reader.
Paul Cheney 4/3
The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt by Sarah Armstrong
Sandstone Press Ltd 9781912240463 hbk Feb 2019