An explosive secret about the Soviet space program lies deep in the mind of an amnesia escapee from a mental asylum, who roams the radioactive streets of Chernobyl while Soviet and British teams compete to catch him
This is certainly one of the older books I’ve read and reviewed. I was given a copy of it out of my late Grandads collection after he passed away. It’s not my usual go-to for genres, but the mention of Chernobyl in the blurb piqued my interests – to many fond memories of playing the STALKER video game.
We’re introduced to main character, Zotov, right off the bat. An escaped asylum patient that has been institutionalised for over twenty years. Right away you get the feeling that something isn’t quite right with his internment and the questions for his treatment come thick and fast.
As a lead character, Zotov is one that you can really get behind and root for. He is damaged goods. The extent of which is mostly unknown and what keeps the pages turnings is finding out the depths of the secrets in which he holds – this plot-point is backed up by scenes involving political intrigue; both Russian and American. The book was written in 1989 and set in 1986 – right at the height of the Chernobyl disaster and as the Cold War is coming to its climax. I am the first to admit, I know very little factual information about these two events, but they feed into the story of Fall-Out enhancing the setting. I really got a feel for Zotov and his plight; his running from the Russian institutions that kept him locked away like a dirty little secret and the struggles with his mental health.
Fall-Out is an action-packed book. Especially when Zotov meets up with some of the supporting characters and begins to form a bond of trust with them. They tentatively come together as a team and grow stronger together – but their time together isn’t without trauma; making the story feel more realistic. They don’t instantly all trust one another. Zotov has been maltreated for aeons, why would he instantly trust someone he just met? He doesn’t. It makes sense. Zotov and his fellows; Annya and Mirek overcome some harsh trials as they attempt to flee from Russian soil, all the while dealing with memory loss, depression and being hunted by Soviet Officials. At times, Fall-Out is a real tear-jerker of a story for some of the scenes. Early after his escape, Zotov teams up and adopts a German Shepard; which he names Pripy.
All the while there are officials working to reclaim, recapture or silence Zotov and what is buried in his mind. Former head of the KGB Aleksei Chernov is informed of Zotov escape and the hunt begins. Secrets are being kept and Aleksei Chernov is one of the few people that know the truth behind Zotov – not even his replacement, Joseph Zhadin, is aware of what is at stake. Thus leading to some very interesting political intrigue at the heart of the novel.
Rather than just having Fall-Out as a straight Spy-Fiction novel, Kenneth Royce has put in the additional thread of a romantic sub-plot. Usually, I am not a fan of romantic sub-plots as they seem to dominate stories rather than add to them. It didn’t feel like this was the case with Fall-Out. Russian Ballet star Yelena Belenko, after reading a small article in the paper about Zotovs disappearance, leaves her husband and heads to the safety of Warsaw – which makes sense and is tied up throughout the story – despite having Russian official eyes on her. She is a well-written, well-rounded character, that has her own feel and personality expressed throughout the book.
There are other characters which aid too, Maria the Opera singer and her role helps to elevate the story as does the plot and plight of Russian official Kanasky.
There is a sub-element of loyality to Fall-Out. The loyalty and trust between Zotov and his companions grows throughout the book. Whereas the ‘loyalty’ between Chernov, Zhadin and the KGB officials always has a price. It’s an interesting contrast between the two and I am almost certain that Kenneth Royce made this an intentional element to his book. Even the dog, Pripy, had more loyalty in him than some of Chernovs subordinates!
On the surface, Fall-Out is a story about fleeing oppression and overcoming hardships, personal and imposed. Some of the events that transpire are difficult to cope with, for both reader and character. It’s a dark book throughout and the ending is pretty devastating.
When I picked up Fall-Out, I didn’t know what to expect. With it being an older book I thought it might be difficult to read as language changes, but thankfully, not so much in the time between the writing of this book and now – which admittedly is only 31 years. A lot has changed in the world, especially in the area known as the Eastern Bloc and that is obvious in the book too, but due to the year it was written in it was accurate (I am assuming) to the setting. Regardless of accuracy, Fall-Out felt authentic to me as a reader. Everything that happens feels well researched but as I have already admitted, I am no expert in this field.
Fall-Out is a well written, fast-paced Spy Fiction. I am not well versed in this genre but it fell well researched and accurate to the era in which it is set. I felt a little disappointed that there wasn’t more scenes set within Pripyat and the Chernobyl aspect of the story wasn’t as apparent as led to believe. All in all a good spy story set in the Cold War era, with dramatic twists and a well-rounded, but shocking, ending.