The Charm School

The Charm School

Book - 1999
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On a dark road deep inside Russia, a young American tourist picks up a most unusual passenger with an incredible secret. Poised against America is a vast and astounding KGB enterprise known as "Mrs. Ivanova's Charm School." It's aim: with the forced co-operation of kidnapped American citizens and U.S. POWs, to train Russian agents to be indistinguishable from ordinary Americans, so that they can slip into the United States undetected. Arrayed against the all-encompassing grip of the Soviets are three Americans: Sam Hollis, an Air Force officer, Lisa Rhodes, an embassy liaison, and Seth Alevy, the chief of the CIA's Moscow station.
Publisher: New York : Warner Books/Grand Central Publishing, 1999.
ISBN: 9781538744277
Branch Call Number: F DEMILLE
Characteristics: xx, 792 pages : map ; 21 cm


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Apr 02, 2017

Wonderful Russian spy thriller! Long read, but worth it!

Oct 17, 2016

Great concept (not sure if The Charm School could ever exist) and clever plot. An A+ pulp thriller though, historical background and global political insight make the book stand out and its reading often exhilarating.
The detailed narration of Lisa's view and experience in Russia, as well as US expat's and embassy life may be a drag in the middle of the book; the mechanical terms and technical maneuvering of helicopter were just short of losing me. When I was about to get bored with righteous Sam Hollis and Lisa, Seth Alevy got my full heart!

Oct 02, 2015

Entertaining book, fast-paced, with very interesting characters. If you're into cold war novels that aren't too full of themselves and allow for a bit of humor, you will like this one

Sep 23, 2012

This book was a bit of slog and a prime candidate for a 2-1/2 star rating - the plot was interesting enough to merit 3 stars but the overall experience was more of a 2-star one.

The story contains all the elements of a successful late-Cold-War era espionage drama - embassy spies in Moscow, CIA vs. KGB posturing, a secret Soviet training camp harboring American POW's, and clandestine reconnaissance missions in the Russian countryside. Add to that, however, a trite motivation for the protagonist, a largely unnecessary love story, multiple weird and almost propagandistic diversions, and sections of seemingly endless technical descriptions of Soviet automobiles, weaponry, and helicopter piloting (and, most awkwardly, sex) and the overall execution just gets too bogged down. Attempting to creep into "epic" territory at over 800 pages, it easily could have settled for "compelling and suspenseful spy thriller" at about half that length.

The overall premise - American spies uncover a Soviet program ("the Charm School") staffed by US POW's that aims to churn out KGB agents who can pass perfectly for Americans and infiltrate the US from within - has a lot of potential. There is some degree of play with the idea that the program has been so successful that even the American agents can be fooled by the camp's product, but that aspect and all its attendant questions about national identity, loyalty, and character is never fully explored. Once the protagonists finally arrive at the "Charm School" there is some time spent reflecting on the ideological tensions that would inevitably arise from the situation, but the concept is not satisfactorily developed.

I will credit the author for raising some disturbing and morally challenging elements in the story's final resolution, but I have to admit that I was so fatigued when I finally reached the end that I didn't have a lot of energy to devote to pondering it. It was, to use a cliche, too little and too late.


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