The Charm School by Nelson DeMille is another epic novel based in Russia and dealing with the intricacies of the American/ Soviet spy culture. I have been a DeMille fan for many years and always find myself drawn into his exciting world of intrigue and suspense. Does Charm School live up to his other novels?
Plot: Greg Fisher is travelling through Russia on the road to Moscow, when he makes an unscheduled stop and meets an English-speaking stranger. He turns out to be a fellow American who has been missing for over a decade. When Gregory agrees to help this stranger is life is put in jeopardy.
Gregory travels to Moscow and contacts the US Embassy to tell him his story. Before he can meet Sam Hollis, the American Intelligence Officer, Gregory Fisher disappears. Sam teams up with the embassy press attache, Lisa Rhodes, in order to unravel the events surrounding the disappearance of Gregory Fisher. When the truth of what is happening in a small town in the middle of Russia is uncovered – it will send shock waves through the US government.
The KGB has set up a school – The Charm School – that has recruited / kidnapped Americans to teach Russians how to act like Americans, so that they can assimilate into American society. Now the embassy and US government have to decide how to react. With Glasnost on the table and the two countries trying to work together, this revelation can destroy everything.
As the story evolves, DeMille portrays a realistic view of life in Russia for most Russians. The glimpses he gives us of everyday life for Russian families makes one really think about one’s own priorities. Even the life of the embassy employees and their relationship to the KGB watchers can make one smile and cry at the same time.
The story moves along at a good pace, with lots of insight into Russian life and the hardships that the normal Russian has to endure. The ending has a surprise twist and keeps your guessing until the last page is turned.
The book is 671 pages, yet the read seems incredibly fast. The story is interesting, the characters are likable, even the Russians and once you are inside the school, it is fascinating to see how life works for the those who teach and those who are taught.
I really enjoyed this book and thought it gave the reader a unique peak into the world of the American embassy workers in Russia and how it was to live and work in Russia during the heyday of Glasnost.