Michael Burleigh

Murder on the Mind

From Russia with Blood: Putin’s Ruthless Killing Campaign and Secret War on the West

By

William Collins 323pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

Heidi Blake is a former assistant editor at the Sunday Times who now works for BuzzFeed. Her book does two things, one badly, the other well. On the positive side, Blake has written a pacy, fact-based thriller about the locals who tend to the needs of rich Russians in London. If you want to read about crooked, drug-addled British fixers, PR persons and lawyers, some of whom have met untimely deaths, or how copious teenage prostitutes were supplied to the likes of Boris Berezovsky, then this is certainly the book for you. Blake leaves few rocks unturned.

On the other hand, Blake tells us nothing interesting about the inner workings of the Putin regime, including the extent to which, when it comes to assassinations, the president controls individual weather events as well as the general climate in Russia. This is not the place, for instance, to discover anything new about Alexander Litvinenko, murdered with polonium-laced tea in November 2006 by two Russian state assassins, or about the failed attempt by GRU officers on the life of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in early 2018: there are much better books on these subjects by, respectively, Luke Harding and Mark Urban, who properly understand the complexities of the cases. The Russian security apparatus has many branches, some of them intertwined with organised crime and Chechnya. In the absence of internal Russian sources, much of what can be said about this murky world is pretty speculative, though Blake never admits it.

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