- Paperback: 566 pages
- Publisher: South Publishing (1 June 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1999582403
- ISBN-13: 978-1999582401
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.2 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 762 g
- Customer Reviews: 25 customer ratings
OF OUR OWN DEVICE Paperback – 1 June 2018
|New from||Used from|
"... [A] stellar thriller with memorable characters… There is a strong political and social commentary that punctuates the story and gives it life, unveiling a Russia that readers hardly know.” Ruffina Oserio for Readers' Favorite
"The plotting is meticulous and brilliantly satisfying." Joel R. Dennstedt, author, for Readers' Favorite
"A definite recommendation for fans of spy fiction, Soviet history buffs, and readers looking for an intense M/M love story." Award-winning author E.P. Clark
Review this product
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Okay, I'm being tongue in cheek, but "Of Our Own Device" has pretty much everything readers longing for a hit of classic Cold War spy fiction could want. Plus a bunch more. It's a big, sprawling book covering the Gorbachev era and the last years of the DDR, full of intrigue, double-crossing, deep cover operatives, and a very hot romance between CIA operative Jack and Eton, the Russian student he's been assigned to recruit.
So yeah. It's a bit like a John Le Carre novel meets "Brokeback Mountain." If you are a fan of Cold War thrillers, or just like reading about the perestroika era, "Of Our Own Device" will have plenty for you to enjoy. The descriptions of 1980s Moscow and Berlin are chock-a-block full of period detail, making you feel as if you're ducking in and out of metro stations and dodging Ladas and Zhigulis on the rainy streets right along with Jack, as he sneaks off to semi-sanctioned trysts with Eton. The major events and concerns of the late '80s are all there too, and even though we now know how it all turned out, you can't help but wonder and worry along with the characters over the arms race, nuclear winter, and Chernobyl. And then there's the vibrant semi-underground late-Soviet rock scene, of which Eton is a part: he's torn between becoming a nuclear physicist or a rock musician, and frequents both worlds, getting firsthand reports about the Chernobyl disaster while also rubbing shoulders with the likes of Boris Grebenshchikov and the members of Kino (I may have emitted a faint yip of joy at that part, I was so excited to see Viktor Tsoi et al. in fictional "person").
If this sounds like some kind of nostalgic fanfic, there is a certain element of that: there's plenty for late-Soviet devotees to check off while nodding contentedly to themselves. But the book is much more than a checklist of names and events, telling as it does against this background what you might call the ultimate story of forbidden love. Jack is a brash, smooth-talking, good-looking Wyoming cowboy who's supposed to be such a quintessentially loud American that no one would ever take him for a CIA operative. At the same time, he leads a second double life as a bisexual at a time when that was considered to be a major security risk, and has to keep his real inclinations secret even as he's ordered to use his esoteric skill set to seduce Eton, a suspected homosexual in a country where being gay was even more taboo than in the US. Jack isn't conflicted about his sexuality, but he is increasingly conflicted about the duplicity it demands of him, as well as the risk it entails for others: he is supposed to seduce Eton, who may or may not be a KGB agent, flirt with their mutual friend Lara, and maintain flamboyantly obvious relationships with CIA-approved female American partners. Jack is a pretty self-centered guy in the beginning of the novel, but as his attachment to Eton grows, so does his awareness that the games he's playing have real consequences for other people.
As might be guessed from the preceding description, there's a lot to this book, and like Jack and Eton's relationship, it starts off slowly. A super-quick read it's not, but it successfully immerses the reader in its time period and in the heads of its main characters, and as the tension between Jack and Eton builds, so does the suspense. Readers in the historical know will be acutely aware of the major events looming for the unsuspecting characters, and may be hard pressed not to scream at them that they just need to hang on a little longer, just a little bit longer. The last few chapters, set in Berlin in the fall of 1989, are, like the time itself, breathlessly, nail-bitingly chaotic, as the characters scheme and race to get on the right side of a wall that's about to come down. A definite recommendation for fans of spy fiction, Soviet history buffs, and readers looking for an intense M/M love story.
My thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Top international reviews
Jack Smith is a CIA rookie under deep cover in Moscow, just after Gorbachev comes to power. He gets himself involved with a group of students/recent graduates, and finds himself attracted to the physicist/lead singer of a band, Eton Volkonsky. Several US spies are rounded up by the KGB, leaving Jack as the only spy not being closely monitored. So he’s asked to recruit Eton. Or is he expected to be recruited by Eton to be a Soviet spy and thus be a double agent? Either way, he’s falls desperately in love (or lust) with the young man, and the main story arc kicks off.
This is an interesting story about the Cold War years, exploring life in Moscow at that time, and what happens post glasnost. The book also covers life in East Berlin, as well as touching upon such historical events as Chernobyl, the war in Afghanistan and the disintegration of the Soviet Bloc. It’s very well written, with the plot moving at some pace. Note that the book contains explicit content which may not be to everybody’s taste.
If you want to take just the one book on holiday or a long trip, this is it.
But again, I am running out of words when I try to explain how GOOD this story is, how GREAT the characters are and how I want all of you to go through these oceans of emotions and to experience the same intensity of feelings while reading this book.
Set in the middle/end of the 1980s in Russia/West-/East Germany/USA this novel offers EVERYTHING that a fan of a powerful political spy thriller can only dream of: the most excited history, a spies' war on a very high level, complex politics, a lot of research (hats off to the author. WOW.) But even if this part alone deserves 5 stars, the best, THE VERY BEST, the most fascinating, stunning, breathtaking, amazing, grandiose part is...YES...a LOVE STORY.
Jack, a CIA officer at the American Embassy in Moscow is a spy, he is lonely, gay and...simply one of the most compassionate characters EVER. Eton, a promising Russian physics student, a grandson of Professor Volkonsky, a world leading specialist in nuclear physics and a member of a nomenclature circle, with a mysterious family background and deeply in the closet (how it could be not at this time and in this country?!) But Eton is in the first place a talented musician, a songwriter, front man and lead singer of the band Krylia.
is a developing one. It starts VERY slowly, the sexual tension could be hardly ignored from their first meeting, but this hidden slow-built-relationship is something you can't write THAT easy. You either can do it or not. M.K. South brought THIS love story and its development to uttermost perfection.
very descriptive and could possibly be diluted in some parts, but during the most part of the book I felt it was authentic to the development of the story and the story just couldn’t do without it. I don't want to get rid of a single sentence. No way. Again, I have to thank/admire/ the author for all his historical knowledge and for his research and everything in between. It is just this kind of writing that left you astounded and speechless and amazed.
In spite of all I said above, I try to remain reasonable.
You shouldn't read this book
- if you do NOT like realistic historical fiction
- if you are NOT interested in politics AT ALL
- if your ONLY idea of a spy novel is James Bond movies
- if your understanding of a love story ( I avoid on purpose the word romance here) is not possible without long detailed sex scenes
Please, read this book:
- if you do NOT want to miss one of the most emotional and intense love stories EVER
- if you don't afraid to read a book of this length
- if you appreciate extremely well-done research
- If you LOVE historical fiction you can authenticate yourself with
- if you understand and estimate a beautiful and excellent writing
Beautiful, emotional, exciting, scary, thrilling, fascinating... the list of adjectives could go on and on.
HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
P.S I'm in the worst book hangover EVER after. Damn you all, Eton, Jack and M.K South. Poor me :(
To get to the point - other reviewers were so right. This is NOT a romance. Rather, it's an EPIC, CONSUMING LOVE STORY. Romance doesn't hit it - too weak and to little to grasp what this book offered in its entirety. It is so much more.
"Even if you know it won’t last and it’ll hurt you in the end. But in your heart of hearts, you’ll know what you have to do: to be with that person, no matter what. For as long as it lasts. It’s not just love, Eton. It’s fate."
On the one hand there is this spy story, which is the plot skeleton. And one the other hand there is a wealth of history. History that many of you will only know from the news at that time, from television, from films or books. The events are over 30 years in the past. And yet it was for me as if it were yesterday. In this case, however, it was history I have lived and experienced for myself. Minutely described are events that occurred in the mid-80s. At that time I was a bit younger than the two main characters, which are in their early or mid-twenties. The historical events were very well researched and woven into a nerve-racking story. When you have experienced those things in your real life, you will experience this story a lot more intensively. I have seen many scenes with my own eyes. I lived through it close up and I was a part of this revolution you will read about. When readers write how moving this is, I can assure you how exciting it was to experience it and relive it while reading this book.
"There’s no other fair price for Love. Only one’s life is enough, only life is enough…"
"Of course I love you… I love you so much… it hurts… Can’t even start telling you… what you mean to me… I missed you so bad…"
No, it must be something larger than love, from the very first day… It must have been fate.
What would someone do to keep the ones they loved safe? What would he do?
The Blurb already mentions a lot of events that you will experience.
I think it's even more intense when you know what the author is writing about when you feel the fear yourself.
I grew up in the Eastern Bloc and experienced the hardships and fears close up.
As it was when families were separated by a wall and you couldn't have contact with your nearest relatives. How letters came to the addressee only via middlemen. How telephone calls were intercepted. And you could be sure to have Stasi spies everywhere.
I witnessed the November Revolution as student in Leipzig at that time. We danced on the streets on the 9th of November 1986. And Coming Out is a wonderful movie by the way, but always in context - under which conditions it was filmed, where and in relation to the time then.
I think everyone will perceive and appreciate this book differently.
For me is this book a wonderful work. It feels very real. And the love story is heartbreaking because of its authenticity.
I will never forget Eton and Jack. One of the most intense and genuine love couples I have read about.
The secondary characters are also strong and multi-faceted. The story was so poignant that the characters didn't get out of my mind for the last few days. And I still have to think about this story.
The book opens in Moscow in 1985 as a performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera Evgenii Onegin unfolds. A tale of a selfish hero who soon regrets his rejection of his young lover is some powerful foreshadowing for our hero Jack Smith. Life is complicated in the Soviet Union for our easy to smile, handsome American spy. Being an openly gay man is a crime in the country he lives and works so his life as a secret agent is boundlessly more dangerous. His striking blue eyes latch on to a handsome Soviet stranger and the young man is much more than he seems. 21 year old lithe Eton is a musician, future nuclear physicist, and son of a disgraced American NSA codebreaker. Mysterious and intoxicating, Jack has a difficult time ignoring his feelings for the Soviet student when suddenly his superior officer (and ex- lover) informs him that his new mission incudes turning Eton into an informant by any means necessary. Disaster ensues at Chernobyl and the AIDS epidemic rages as our hero struggles to find a place where the Soviets “hid(e) their guileless idealistic hearts.”
The overriding love theme is beautifully and sentimentally conveyed. South’s writing style is occasionlly poetic with plenty of pop culture references. The message is a poignant one; Even when you already know what your dream is, the right person can elevate that dream in brilliant ways. There is a deep humanity in South’s tale plus a dreamy love story... set to the Eagle’s song “Hotel California.”
To his colleagues in the American Embassy in Moscow Jack Smith is a recently appointed junior officer with the USIA. In reality he’s a deep cover C.I.A. operative whose persona is that of a gregarious, friendly, and at times oblivious American, though he is no such thing. It turns out Jack is uniquely qualified for life as a spy. He’s a gay man who came of age in a less accepting era (I’m guessing he’s over 25 but under 30) and place. He grew up in an infelicitous household, complete with dead mother and an abusive, alcoholic, bigoted father. In short he knows how to hide in plain sight in spite of physically being a looker: tall & dark with cornflower blue eyes. All he wanted was an escape, a better life, a ranch in California, the reality of which the army and later the C.I.A. promise like a mirage in the desert.
Jack is tasked with befriending any and all comers and, when possible, recruiting future agents or being a dangle. He not only speaks fluent Russian but due to his own curious nature is knowledgeable of the mores and culture which endears him to the locals and he can’t help but return the affection. In spite of everything he’s wonderfully human and that’s one of the almost surprising things the author does so well: making the characters fully rounded individuals who live in a recognizable world and don’t necessarily subscribe the easy construct of spy, agent, villain, hero etc. Within Jack’s purview falls Eton May-Volkonsky, the son of an American defector and an aristocratic Russian; grandson of, in the world of the book, the Soviet originator of the Nuclear Winter Theory and a physicist in his own right. He’s also a musician, a poet, and generally a sweet soul who seems almost too fragile for the harsh world of the 1980’s USSR. Even so, he’s no wilting flower in need of rescue. In need of love? Who isn’t?
The book opens, during a performance of Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky at the Bolshoi Theater, the spy/thriller fans may think of the Mission Impossible or Jason Bourne movies but as the story progresses it put me in mind of the Bourne books and even of Le Carre, with the almost relentless emphasis on the daily minutiae of the life of a spy which paired with that of a bureaucrat is endless reports, counter intelligence runs to make sure you are or are not being shadowed by the “organs”, answering to office drones who are not in the field, and agencies who at times have contradictory agendas. In Jack’s personal circumstances he also has to work extra to keep up the facade of a heterosexual man. All of this is exhausting when all he wants is a weekend trip to Helsinki, have some meaningless sex, and watch the Live Aid concert.
I don’t know how much is too much to reveal in terms of the plot/events of the book. The bare bones would be that Jack comes in to the orbit of Eton, Lara, an aspiring actress and the daughter of the Deputy Minister of Culture, and their circle of friends. Though they’re all young, 20 or 21, they’re irresistibly attracted to Jack and all of his Americanness. For Eton, Jack is wide open spaces and a dream-like California. I had “Hotel California”, the whole album, on repeat for a week. Eton also feels an unspeakable attraction for Jack, one he can’t quite iterate even to himself. He has no point of reference for it. Jack feels the same but he’s so deep in the closet due to work, the times, and choice that a future together isn’t a foregone conclusion not least of all because almost all of Jack’s interactions with Eton are based on suspecting Eton of possibly being a current or future KGB agent and trying, albeit halfheartedly, to recruit him as an asset for the C.I.A. Needless to say those are less than ideal circumstances for anything meaningful to develop and though this is definitely not a romance, M/M or otherwise, the relationship between Eton and Jack does shape the course of the story and ultimately of their lives. Some might object to some of Jack’s interactions with Eton, more specifically how he treats him, like a potential agent, however he behaves entirely how a well trained case officer should.
The bulk of the story takes place during 1985 & 1986 at the height of a veritable spy tit-for-tat between the U.S. and the slowly collapsing USSR. These are perilous times, everything is in flux, the earth is shifting, who can be trusted? where do you draw the line? how close to the edge can you stand without falling over? how much of your authentic self can you sacrifice for what you believe to be the “greater good”? The denouement of the story takes us to the latter part of 1989 when the cracks that were evident within the power structures have become craters. Afghanistan, the Soviet Union’s Vietnam, is blowing up, Denmark legally recognized the first same-sex marriage, and things in Berlin are about to take a sharp turn. Coincidentally Berlin is where our principals meet again after a lengthy separation. They haven’t gotten through the years unscathed and they can’t remain static.
I won’t lie. The book is long and initially it gave me pause but once I started it was like reading the diary of someone, Jack, with a life way more interesting than my own. The bulk of the story is told from Jack’s P.O.V. but there is a small section of journal entries from Eton, which is genius, because we get to be in the head of this complicated, smart, and beautiful Russian man, Jack’s counterpart and very much his equal. They both come from a place where they need to hide an important part of who they are. Such are the seeds of what promises to be a great relationship. Jack and Eton will linger in your mind long after you turn the last page.
Ultimately this wasn’t a 5 star read for me because I desperately wanted, nay needed another chapter, an epilogue, or any kind of coda to comfort my heart as to Jack & Eton’s future. That’s how much M. K. South makes these characters vibrant and alive. I cared about them like dear friends whose story I never wanted to end.
For those interested in genre classification I’d say this is more of a spy/thriller/action-suspense with a same-sex couple as part of the story, and all that entails in that place and time, but definitely not a romance, though there absolutely is a love story.
Full disclosure: M. K. South offered me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, however after reading the first chapter I realized I was all in and purchased my own copy because, whenever possible I like to support artists/writers and and don’t want any BS from Amazon. *fingers crossed*
The novel is set during the height of the cold war, the author paints this multi layered picture of the era that builds upon itself. I felt like I was taking a trip back in time to these events as they took place as if Jack himself could have been a real agent and this could have been truly one of those untold stories of the shadow world of spy's.
If you are looking for a read that you will be able to really dig into, something long and intricate. Something you could spend a weekend or a long flight reading. This is going to be the book you want to read. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves spy novels, this book has a lot of twists on the standard spy novel but retains an air of authenticity.
I really enjoyed the plot of this story and how the story always moved forward toward something interesting and engaging. That helped keep my interest as the story progressed. This was especially important because it is a long story broke into multiple sections with a large number of chapters in each section. The characters were well-written and felt like real people. I was really invested in what happened to them and anxious about what would happen next. The dialogue was realistic and natural. I also enjoyed the romantic elements of this story. You don’t often see a M/M romance in spy fiction so I found that to be exciting and refreshing. This story was an interesting blend of romance, history, and page-turning thriller and should appeal to a wide range of readers.
The second major plot line in the book follows Jack’s secret homosexuality, something he hides desperately from the Company and his new friends. Things get even more complicated when he develops feelings for his main target. I really enjoyed the development of their romance, a beautiful, blossoming story juxtaposed against the harsh Soviet and American political clash of their time. Their moments together are short and hurried, fraught with the danger of discovery. Their relationship deepens and Jack realizes he’s in trouble for becoming emotionally involved with his target.
In addition to Moscow and other parts of Russia, the story visits American CIA headquarters in Washington, D.C. as well as Berlin, Germany. The last several chapters take place on both sides of the Berlin Wall and really give you an idea of the heightened political tension there. M.K. Smith does a wonderful job of blending detailed history with an exciting and breathtaking story of the spy world.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel! The surprising ending left me wanting to know more about how Jack and Eton’s Story would end.
This book was enjoyable to read mainly due to the relationship between Jack and Eton. But I will admit, there were times I struggled to read this as the book was slow at times. It was almost too much other information that wasn’t really needed. Almost like “filler”. But what kept me going was wanting to see what would happen for Jack as his character grew and he began to accept who he was.
- A heart-warming trip back in time
- A gripping and moving love story
- A powerful insight into the real Cold War events and time
- An enjoyment and thrill of a succulent spy story
- A deep understanding of the Russian character & the Russian " irrational" thinking
I wish "Of Our Own Device " to meet it's perfect readers who will love it as I do!
However both world become quite intertwined, sometime in quite literal, graphic detail. He is instructed to groom a foreign scientist. However, this becomes complicated as the young spy quite physically becomes involved. As Jack develops feelings for the man, his duties and fears often get the best of him.
Overall it was a good read, combining the political suspense of typical spy novel, while provided enough of the human incite to develop the main character. While certainly not a paperback drug store romantic novel, it does provide many details of their "friendship." I would recommend this book certainly and look forward to future titles by this author.
Given the way the book is presented, it came as a real surprise to me to find that a certain character was homosexual, but it only added to how interesting the story is. This novel is a must read for spy genre fans with some love and romance mixed in, I don't want to give too much away but we get to know the story of Jack Smith, a CIA agent with a secret, part of the story is set in Moscow and the dealings with America, you might want to read this book for its interesting portion of historical content alone.
I really think that this book needs to be read with an open mind, and a conscious effort to see things from a different point of view, one of my favorite things about it was that the story was not predictable at all.