Project Wonderful

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Guest Post - George Eccles

Welcome Author George Eccles!

Why Russia is still a good source for thriller writers

The end of the Cold War seemed to throw many thriller writers into a state of panic. For
forty years they found a perfect setting for espionage and treachery, not to mention world
domination, nuclear holocausts and even the end of the world. Suddenly, with glasnost and
perestroika, the Soviet Union disintegrated and Russia ceased to be 'the enemy'. Thriller
writers searched around for an alternative background for their plots: some ventured into the
world of drug wars and cartels; others explored the possibilities of the Middle East; others
delved into terrorism on their own doorstep. Only a few ventured back into Russia.

The problem was that, while Russia remained closed to the West, it was easy enough to base
a novel there because no one was in any position to judge the descriptions of the scenes or
the operations of the KGB (as it was in those days) or even the way the people lived. With
the opening up of the country, suddenly there were pictures all over the internet, thousands
flocked to Russia as tourists or to work, newspapers and dissidents started carrying stories
about 'real Russia' - and that made Russia far more treacherous ground for writers unless they
really knew what they were talking about.

However, for those well versed in Russia, there can be little doubt that it remains a great
source for a thriller. Let me outline why.

Politically, the country is in turmoil. Putin might have just got in for a third term, but a
significant proportion of the intelligentsia are not happy about this. We will probably never
know the extent to which the last Presidential election was rigged, but suffice it to say that
a large portion of the population no longer support Putin. There have been mass protests in
Moscow, dissident newspapers talking opening about the need to overthrow him, and well
publicised incidents like the punk group Pussy Riot screaming out their protests from the altar
of Christ the Saviour Cathedral. In these circumstances, surely there is scope for a plot to get
rid of, or even assassinate, the President?

From the time he first assumed power, Putin has been very weary of the oligarchs, whom
he viewed as having got their hands on much of Russia's natural resources 'for a song'. In
some cases, where the opportunity has presented itself, he has appropriated some of these
enterprises back into State control - sometimes having made what the Godfather once
described as an offer the oligarch couldn't refuse - but for the most part the oligarchs have
retained their massive wealth, and Putin is not in the least bit happy with it. Politically, Putin
has neutralised the most overt threats to his power base - for example, Berezovsky lounges in
London as a fugitive from the Russian Courts while Khodorkovsky languishes in prison - but
again neither Putin nor the oligarchs trust the other. This silent war between the two forms
the background to my own novel The Oligarch: A Thriller.

It is not just their own 'businessmen' the Russian hierarchy views with suspicion. Despite
public pronouncements, they resent large Western businesses whom they regard as creaming
off the country's wealth. It is fine when they are providing expertise which Russian
businesses lack, but as soon as these businesses have built up their skill base, then the
Russians turn against their Western partners. There are numerous examples of this in the oil

sector: just look at the battles Shell had over its interests in Sakhalin a few years ago, or BP's
well-publicised and ongoing battle at TNK-BP. But it is not just in the oil sector. When I
was in Moscow, the Western founders and operators of its first large chain of supermarkets
were forced to 'do a runner' back to their home country one Friday night after they had been
warned off. This continual struggle between Russian and Western businessmen is surely a
source for a good story?

The KGB might have gone, but the FSB remains. What is the difference? To be honest, not
much. Many former KGB employees have gone into 'private security' which is far more
lucrative but requires much the same skills. They have been replaced by a younger group
of thugs, some more computer literate than before, others just the same old hard men. Their
activities have not changed: in the interests of State security, they bug the offices of suspected
dissidents, drag people off in the night to be questioned, place spies in the West (remember
the glamorous Anna Chapman episode?), arrest journalists and do whatever dirty work Putin
requires. Putin himself, after all, was director of the FSB before Yeltsin was 'persuaded' to
propel him into the political arena.

Finally, Russia itself lends itself to thrillers. Russia is about 10,000 kilometres wide and
spans nine time zones. Much of the business wealth is on the Western side of the country, but
most of its natural resources lie in Siberia. A large proportion of the towns in Siberia started
life as gulags, and many of those who live there now are descended from former prisoners -
and often share their ancestor's criminal tendencies. Siberia itself is a vast area . The cities are
in many case cut off from each other: if you are lucky there might be a rail link, mostly you
have to fly in or out. The extremes of weather conditions make transport, communications
and visibility often difficult and sometimes impossible. In Soviet times, many Siberian towns
(for example, those manufacturing weapons) were 'secret towns': these did not appear on any
map and required special KGB-issued passes for a visit. Perhaps there are still secret towns to
inspire the thriller writer - who knows?

THE OLIGARCH: A THRILLER is available from Foyles, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and
all other major online book stores. Links to these stores can be found on the novel's website: .

Synopsis: Following his controversial election for a third term amid widespread protests
and allegations of vote rigging, the Russian President is determined to destroy the oligarchs
before they destroy him. When the global economic meltdown decimates their wealth, the
President seizes this chance to demolish their power base. His greatest opponent - Anton
Blok, owner of the mighty Tyndersk Kombinat - has a secret agenda and faces far more than
just financial ruin as his empire threatens to fall apart, and the President knows that his old
enemy will stop at nothing to avoid catastrophe. With battlelines drawn, he turns to Alex
Leksin, a business troubleshooter of Russian descent, to thwart Blok's plans. Against the
challenge of hostile Arctic conditions, Leksin must tread a dangerous path through a labyrinth
of corruption, terrorism and obfuscation until the exciting and unexpected denouement takes
place in Russia’s northernmost seaport. Set in Moscow, Ingushetia (Chechnya’s neighbour),
and Tyndersk, a Siberian mining town inside the Arctic Circle and geographically cut

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