Summary and book reviews of Legends by Robert Littell

Legends

A Novel of Dissimulation

By Robert Littell

Legends
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2005,
    386 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2006,
    400 pages.

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Book Summary

Robert Littell is the undisputed master of American spy fiction, hailed for his profound grasp of the world of international espionage. His previous novel, The Company, an international bestseller, was praised as "one of the best spy novels ever written" (Chicago Tribune). For his new novel, Legends, Littell focuses on the life of one agent caught in a "wilderness of mirrors" where both remembering and forgetting his past are deadly options.

Martin Odum is a CIA field agent turned private detective, struggling his way through a labyrinth of past identities--"legends" in CIA parlance. Is he really Martin Odum? Or is he Dante Pippen, an IRA explosives maven? Or Lincoln Dittmann, Civil War expert? These men like different foods, speak different languages, have different skills. Is he suffering from multiple personality disorder, brainwashing, or simply exhaustion? Can Odum trust the CIA psychiatrist? Or Stella Kastner, a young Russian woman who engages him to find her brother-in-law so he can give her sister a divorce.

As Odum redeploys his dormant tradecraft skills to solve Stella's case, he travels the globe battling mortal danger and psychological disorientation. Part Three Faces of Eve, part The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and always pure Robert Littell, Legends--from unforgettable opening to astonishing ending--again proves Littell's unparalleled prowess as a seductive storyteller.

1993: THE CONDEMNED MAN CATCHES A GLIMPSE OF THE ELEPHANT

THEY HAD FINALLY GOTTEN AROUND TO PAVING THE SEVEN kilometers of dirt spur connecting the village of Prigorodnaia to the four-lane Moscow-Petersburg highway. The local priest, surfacing from a week-long binge, lit beeswax tapers to Innocent of Irkutsk, the saint who in the 1720s had repaired the road to China and was now about to bring civilization to Prigorodnaia in the form of a ribbon of macadam with a freshly painted white stripe down the middle.

The peasants, who had a shrewder idea of how Mother Russia functioned, thought it more likely that this evidence of progress, if that was the correct name for it, was somehow related to the purchase, several months earlier, of the late and little lamented Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria's sprawling wooden dacha by a man identified only as the Oligarkh. Next to nothing was known about him. He came and went at odd hours in a glistening black ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Critical opinion is mixed, but generally positive - the negatives are that a few critics feel that Littell's prose is a little clich├ęd and some feel that Odum's search for his real identity is a little overdone.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Patrick Anderson

My admiration for Littell's novels, notably The Defection of A.J. Lewinter and The Sisters, is no secret, but I think that, at age 70, he has outdone himself with this dizzying, dazzling portrait of a spy who has so many identities -- legends, in spook-talk -- that he no longer knows who he is ... Legends is a rich, funny, perverse, angry, haunting, supremely entertaining look at our world and our government.

Publisher's Weekly

Wonderful writing and a great sense of fun make this another winner.

Booklist - David Wright

No respecter of the classical unities, Littell imbues his tale with the same split personality of its protagonist, veering from jocose banter to grim torture, but for readers prepared to follow his lead, he delivers a smart, fun, strange adventure in the legendary tradition of Odysseus, yet another wily trickster who boasts to his peril that he is "no man."

New York Post

Robert Littell's convincing spy story is brimming with great characters.

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Beyond the Book

Robert Littell was born on January 8, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York.  Before taking up writing full time, he was a Soviet affairs journalist for Newsweek.  His first novel was published in 1970, but he came to note in 1973 with The Defection of A.J. Lewinter.  He currently lives in France. 

His next novel, Vicious Circle, is set in Israel and Palestine and is due to be published this September. 

Bibliography
Left and Right with Lion and Ryan (1970)
The Defection of A. J. Lewinter (1973)
Sweet Reason (1974)
The October Circle (1975)
Mother Russia (1978)
The Debriefing (1979)
The Amateur: A Novel of Revenge (1981)
The Sisters: A Novel of Betrayal (1986)
The Revolutionist (1988)
The Once and ...

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