Black Ghosts by Victor Ostrovsky

I used to read a lot of espionage fiction. At its best it has a nice blend of action and intrigue with character depth and complex plots. But I haven’t been reading much of it lately.

When I was pitched on Black Ghosts by Victor Ostrovsky it seemed like a nice break and a quick entertaining read. That turned out to be true – to a degree – but it lacked the depth and complexity I was looking for.

Black Ghosts gets its name from an underground Russian group of ex-KGB operatives who secretly control large segments of the military and government in the former Soviet Union.

One of the leaders, Peter Ivanovitch Rogov,  manages to escape from prison in Siberia and plots to return Mother Russia to the glory of the Czars – powerful autocratic rule, not the weak corruption of democracy. Allies inside the US are manipulating the government to help him and thus return the money making conflict of the Cold War years.

A former elite US military and intelligence operative gets inadvertently sucked into the battle to stop this group when a friend shows up at his door shot and bleeding – actually a very attractive women shows up at his door and leads Edward to his friend.

As Edward slowly gets pulled in deeper and deeper, and as Rogov’s plan gets closer to completion, a show down is building. Can Edward save Russia and the United States at the same time? Can former enemies and mafia kingpins work with a makeshift army to defeat Rogov?Not surprisingly, the answer is yes (sorry to spoil it for you). Along the way you have some side stories inside the US government, a look into the Russian mafia, a betrayal, and the occasional brooding about the psychological trauma soldiers and spies endure.

Black Ghosts struck me as quintessential airport reading; the type of book you would pick up at the airport because you need something to read on a long flight and forgot to bring anything. A rather mindless espionage thriller – something to occupy your time rather than fully engage with or explore.

It had some interesting plot hooks but otherwise felt more like a paint-by-numbers thriller. Wounded warrior forced into action by loyalty, betrayed by a beautiful women, works with unexpected allies to defeat stereotypical evil bad guy, etc.  It was entertaining as far as it went but nothing that stood out either in the writing or the characters.

It could be that my tastes have simply changed; that I don’t enjoy this type of genre anymore. I think that might play a role but I also think that this is just not a very deep or particularly creative book.

As always, your mileage may vary. If you like Cold War thrillers updated for the post-cold war era and don’t need much literary style or depth you might enjoy this paperback. I found it a quick an easy read but just a little to shallow for my tastes.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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