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1970s spy thriller set in Moscow
8th February 2019
The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt by Sarah Armstrong – 1970s spy thriller set in Moscow.
Martha comes from an upper middle class British family. Her father is something important at GCHQ in Cheltenham. She is, when the story opens, an undergraduate at Cambridge – but that soon goes seriously wrong. She is sent down by her college for demonstrating outside Trinity for women to be admitted. Her parents are shocked and embarrassed – and are arranging for her to live at home, and be a prep school teacher, to prevent her getting into further trouble.
She talks to gay family friend, Kit, who is a junior diplomat and about to be sent to a posting in Moscow. They agree to a ‘marriage of convenience’ (enthusiastically supported by both unknowing families…) and for her to accompany him.
Life on a Moscow posting in the 1970s was not easy or smooth. The accommodation (certainly for a junior at the Embassy) was pretty basic – although no doubt better than that enjoyed by the local population. Conversations were monitored and you were followed in the streets by the secret service. Your maid, your driver, and your teacher were all in the employ of the Russian state. Not, probably, too threatening an existence if you followed the game rules for being diplomat’s wife – joining the Embassy choir and socialising with your peers. But this life was not for Martha. She has an independent spirit of adventure… She wants to get to know Moscow, and to meet non-Embassy people. She walks many miles though woods, parks, visits the university and generally roams the streets. She encounters a somewhat strange lady, Eva, a Brit but definitely out of favour with the Embassy. They suspect she is a spy – and they suspect that Martha meeting her was not by chance. Eventually Martha is sent home to England – not officially ‘in disgrace’ (the Embassy is too refined for that…) but not exactly in the best of books. Kit stays on in Moscow – with his sexual secret exposed (as, we guess, it probably always has been…).
The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt is quite delightful in the way it relates the 1970 lifestyles of an upper middle class English family and those involved in the service of their country in Moscow. The atmosphere feels very real – and quite definitely of a bygone era (although only 50 years ago…). Moscow comes through loud and clear as Martha walks the streets. The nervousness of being followed and being recorded, the parks and the streets all true to life (not that you could buy a map at the time), and the quite magnificent Metro stations – designed as cultural palaces for the masses.
The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt is a nostalgic hark back to a very different age. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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