Aleksi actually seems like a pretty decent guy, except for all those people he murders

It’s difficult to disentangle all the of the twists and turns in this protagonist’s life, but here goes:

Alexsi is born Russian, trained as a spy by the NKVD, and sent into Germany as a double agent, where he foils an attempt by the Russians to take out Churchill at his meeting with Roosevelt and Stalin in Tehran in December 1943, and ends up working in London for the British.

Aleksi actually seems like a pretty decent guy, except for all those people he murders, while at the same time refusing to massacre anyone, to the extreme displeasure of the SS. He’s a polyglot, an excellent spy for the Russians if only they would believe him when he tells them Hitler’s going to invade, an excellent soldier in the Wehrmacht, an excellent source of information for the British, a Vicomte de Valmont-worthy seducer, and an escape artist on the level of Houdini. What’s not to love?

The bloody parts are always relieved by flashes of humor that at times are almost slapstick (which feels like a pretty realistic picture of any war). After Russian assassins have made London too hot to hold him, Aleksi talks the British into sending him to the safer environs of the front.

Alexsi was so sick of the British he almost didn’t mind parachuting out into the darkness. After spending what felt like a third of his life flying from England to Algeria, another third passed by flying from Algiers to Italy. The Halifax bomber shook as if it would fall apart at any moment. The navigator waved him away angrily whenever he tried to get a look at his map to see where they were. And each time he fell asleep the gunner would shake him awake and hand him a mug of tea…It made Aleksi think that the Germans would never lose a war if only they didn’t persist in fighting the entire world every time. Just as this last month had made him think that the only possible explanation for the British Empire was the quality of the opposition.

Cameos from a bunch WWII luminaries from every possible side, a bunch of bad guys and a few good ones. This jury’s still out on which Aleksi is. A very enjoyable read with an excellent author’s note on how the lives of the real characters played out after the war.

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