About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Vladimir Putin in Spy Fiction and Libel (Part II)

Vladimir Putin is a character in Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews. He does not make a cameo appearance. He is a named and important character. Putin is not the first Russian leader to be named in spy and criminal fiction I have read in recent years. As I read fiction written in the West the Russian leaders are negatively portrayed.

In the early 1950’s of the Stalinist Soviet Union, Leo Demidov, in  The Holy Thief by William Ryan, is an MGB (secret police) officer. The plot is about his search for a serial killer in a regime which denies such a killer can exist in socialist society. Demidov narrowly escapes execution. Secretly denounced he refuses to denounce his beautiful wife. They only escape being killed because of Stalin’s unexpected death in 1953.

I set out the opening to Red Square by Edward Topol and Fridrikh Neznansky in my review as follows:

Leonid Brezhnev’s brother-in-law, Semyon Tvisgun, has been found dead in an apartment with a bullet through his head. Brezhnev summons Special Investigator, Igor Shamrayev, to investigate the official verdict of suicide.

Published in 1982 the year of Brezhnev’s death the book clearly states that the Tvisgun and Brezhnev families profited from corruption in the U.S.S.R.

A generation later after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Arkady Renko, the Russian investigator created by Martin Cruz Smith, in Stalin’s Ghost is called upon to investigate reported sightings of Stalin’s ghost in the subways of Moscow. An extreme nationalist party, the Russian Patriots, seeks to exploit the vision of the former dictator.

Palace of Treason is set another decade later in the new Russia of Putin.

There is not the slightest effort at disguise with regard to Putin. Matthews has chosen to make the real life President of Russia part of his book.

There is mention of his devotion and skill at judo. I have watched some video of Putin doing judo. He is a skilled judo player.

In the book Putin is deeply interested in intelligence affairs, which is not surprising considering he spent time in the KGB before the expiration of the U.S.S.R. His interest in intelligence extends to individual operations and operatives. He has Dominika report directly to him.

When there is a lucrative business deal inspired by Dominka Putin makes sure that one of his close associates handles the transaction. Dominika shares in the financial rewards.

When the Russians learn that the French are conducting industrial espionage in Russia Putin calls upon the vicious Zyuganov:

…. Putin told him he wanted the matter handled in a specific manner, to send a message to the French that Russia was not stupid, that with a swipe of a paw the bear could shatter their operation and, particularly, that the long-honored convention between spy services of not using violence against one another’s officers did not apply. Putin directed Zyuganov to create shock and fear and to break the French of their garlicy arrogance so they would come to the table to sell ships on Russia’s terms, which really meant Putin’s terms, which really meant a closing commission deposited in a sheltered account.

Later in the book Dominika joins Putin and cronies at a palace on the Baltic coastline near St. Petersburg where the business of Russia is conducted amidst splendour and luxury.

Thus Putin is portrayed in Palace of Treason as a violent, corrupt leader with a lavish personal lifestyle. It is not the type of description I would expect of any living person in a book whether fiction or non-fiction.

My next post will discuss some of the legal issues associated with making a living real life person such as Putin a character in fiction.

Matthews, Jason - (2013) - Red Sparrow and Recipes and Menus in Spy Thrillers; (2015) - Palace of Treason and Vladimir Putin in Spy Fiction - Part I


  1. This is really interesting, Bill. I'm not at all surprised at the negative portrayal of Soviet leaders in Western crime fiction, including this most recent novel .But it is particularly interesting to see how it's handled when the subject (in this case Putin) is still alive. I would guess there probably are plenty of legal issues involved in depicting a real person in fiction, and I'll be interested to see what your take is on that.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is a rare book in the Western world that sees a Russian leader in a positive way.

  3. I was going to wait until you had covered this topic entirely, Bill, but I see you have more to say. Very interesting. I will be eager to see what conclusions you reach in the next post.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I kept finding I had more I wanted to say on Putin and legal issues.

  4. Bill, I don't recall reading about "live" people in fiction, particularly spy fiction. So it'd be interesting to read about Putin's real character in "Palace of Treason." I can't picture him as any kind of hero in fiction, perhaps because of his negative image in real life, thanks partly to his tenure in the KGB—a favourite hunting ground of western thriller writers during the Cold War.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. My next post will provide reasons why living real people are not characters in fiction.