The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service by Andrew Meier
Review by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service is a far more titillating title that what's between the covers.
This is the story of Isaiah Oggins, American/Russian Jew with Communist ideals and sympathies for the plight of oppressed workers. Very little is known about him, especially after he went underground overseas to work as a Communist spy. Oggins' wife is just as interesting and much of the book revolves around her story. It also spends a large number of pages on their sickly and crippled son Robin, a stamp collector and scholar who spent 40 years of his life studying medieval falconry...40 years of his life studying medieval falconry.
Everything about Oggins is/was/is hush-hush. He was a spy prior to WWII, he was a captive during the Cold War, and when the Americans showed interest in re-Patriating him, he was seen as too valuable and possibly damaging to the Soviet cause to be released. Like any spy, his operations were kept under wraps. When the USSR fell and their vast secret files were left open to the eyes of the world, some information was garnered. Then Russia went back to its old ways, closed the doors again and much spy-craft information from the period was once again hidden from view. No doubt certain governments obtained all the necessary info, but they're certainly not going to tip their hand for the likes of some random journalist looking to write a biography.
Perhaps the material is so lacking that nobody should've bothered attempting a book on the subject. Even as scant as the available material is, it still could've been handled better in more deft hands. For instance, there's a whole lotta flash backs and flash forwards goin' on here. Some heighten the tension and suspense, while some give away the ending and spoil what little thrill this story possesses.
[ This from Oggins' Wiki page gives you all you essentially get out of this book:
Isaiah Oggins (also known as Ysai or Cy) (July 22, 1898 - 1947) was an American-born communist and spy for the Soviet secret police. After working in Europe and the Far East, Oggins was arrested, served eight years in the GULAG detention system, and was summarily executed on the orders of Joseph Stalin.
The reader is left to assume all the possible or even probable nefarious dealings Oggins undertook. However, at least at the start of his career, all he seemed to do was house-sit. Him and his wife would go undercover as Americans living aboard and act as cover by renting out an apartment that could be used by the real agents doing the dirty work, none of which of course is detailed in the book. So yeah...not exactly riveting, 007 kind of reading here. (hide spoiler)]
The Lost Spy will be of interest almost solely to those who delve deeper than than average joe into the world of underground intelligence, and even they'll be hard-pressed to find this ho-hum book more than mildly satisfying.