Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"The Hunted" by Brian Haig

[[ASIN:0446195596 The Hunted]]

In the opening pages of this book, Brian Haig pays homage to Nelson DeMille, calling him his favorite author (he also happens to be one of mine) and says that Nelson once gave him a piece of advice that went something like this: "You'll only write a certain number of books in your life. Make sure each of them are the absolute best they can be." I'm sure I've mangled that quote but I'm completely sleep deprived after staying up all night to finish "The Hunted." Let me just say that Brian Haig more than delivered.

This is a fact-based thriller based on a real-life couple (their last name is slightly changed in the book), Alex and Elena Konevitch. It starts out a bit slow, with KGB agents and others sitting around discussing the imminent fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Boris Yeltsin. What they can't figure out is where Boris got the money to finance a campaign that actually succeeded in bringing democracy to the USSR. Finally they discover that a 22-year-old expelled student from Moscow University (Alex) bankrolled Boris, but managed to stay in the shadows.
Alex, it seems, was a capitalist in a communist country years before the Iron Curtain fell. He was running businesses out of his dorm room at Moscow University, but was turned in by a jealous classmate and expelled. No matter; he went on to build an empire and within a few years was worth millions. Somehow this very young man had a grasp of finance and business that would make Donald Trump green with envy. How the Soviet Union produced such a man is a mystery, but this actually happened. And Alex wanted to bring democracy to his country, so he helped Boris Yelstin win the presidency and toppled the Soviet Union.

Soon Alex meets Elena and they fall in love. He continues to grow his multitude of businesses and works with Boris. He is young and handsome and his wife is beautiful. But the KGB cabal has not forgotten him, and in a conspiracy they kidnap the young couple, horribly torture Alex, steal all his money and businesses and plan to murder the couple. Yet Alex and Elena manage to escape to America, where they are granted political asylum.
Without giving away too much of the plot, I will quickly summarize what happens next. Alex, working now with Elena (at her insistence), begin new lives and are soon making money hand over fist. Alex is simply brilliant with finances and knows the market. It is the beginning of the dot-com craze and he anticipates what to do. He also keeps in close touch with his immigration attorney, MP, who got the couple asylum.

But Alex's reputation back in Russia is in complete tatters. He has been framed for stealing from his own companies and making off with millions. The cabal that did this to him is already planning on their next victim, while Alex's original businesses are failing miserably under the control of the KGB man who ordered the frame. They want Alex and Elena back in Russia and dead. Yet Alex has taken precautions; he has left a false trail in America and is being hunted in the wrong city.

All his planning is for naught, though, when the FBI director decides he wants to expand the Moscow station. He promises to send Alex and Elena back to Russia to face trial for their "crimes" if he can do this. Of course he has no idea if Alex is guilty, nor does he appear to care.
This quickly turns into a nightmare for the young couple. Once again their money is gone (frozen this time), they are jailed, and a hit is put out on them. It is truly a tale of corruption in both countries, with some contemptible characters on each side and some honorable ones as well.

How Alex and Elena get through the next years, and the outcome of this tale, is remarkable. You absolutely must read this book. I guarantee that you won't be able to put it down once you are a few chapters into it. It turns out that Alex actually wrote a biography of the events himself and contacted Brian Haig with the story (which was quite public in the USA and Russia at one point), telling him he might be interested in it. While Brian Haig shortens the story into a novel and fictionalizes some characters, the basic story is true. However, from what I can determine Alex and Elena actually suffered even worse atrocities over a longer period. I will certainly buy the book written by Alex to get the full story.

If you read just one book this year, read "The Hunted." It is a thriller, a spy classic, romance, espionage, suspense -- everything, and it is absolutely riveting. I'm only awake long enough to write this review as I stayed up most of the night finishing the book. It truly is that good. Highly recommended. If I could give it more than five stars, I would.