From The New Yorker:
The spy thriller still pines for the Soviet Union. No post-Iron Curtain intrigue, no replay of the British Empire’s Great Game in Afghanistan or its intrusions into the Middle East, no elaborate “security measures,” no double-double cross in the murk of C.I.A.-F.B.I. rivalry can match, for heart-stoppingly high geopolitical stakes, the good old days when, in terms of John le Carré’s fiction, M.I.6’s Smiley matched wits with the K.G.B.’s Karla on the global chessboard. There was an intelligibility if not a friendly intimacy in the old contest, one between two large, idealistic, rough-mannered nations seeking to maintain their spheres of influence short of tripping nuclear war. As one hardened undercover functionary cozily tells another in Robert Littell’s new book, “Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation” (Overlook; $25.95), “We all came of age in the cold war. We all fought the good fight. I’m sure we can work something out.” The so-called war on terror has no such surety; “working out” is just what the other side, or sides, doesn’t want. Littell conscientiously covers the new ground—the post-Soviet Russia of the oligarchs; the potential for financial shenanigans opened up by worldwide computerization; the stagnant antipathy between Israel and its neighbors; Bosnia; Chechnya; and (news to me) an international smugglers’ cove where the borders of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet and whores dance sleepily in one another’s arms—but he remains most excited by, and most at home with, occupants of the old U.S.S.R. as they strike up fresh relations with capitalism and the C.I.A.