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Review: The Charm School, by Nelson Demille

HERB JOHNSON – GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR
Just outside the town of Borodino, not far from Moscow, is an abandoned air force training school the KGB has turned into a secret facility called The Charm School.
The time is the late ’80s and the Cold War is still a major fact of life in U.S./Russia relations. Were the Americans to become aware of the existence of the Charm School, the efforts being made toward detente would suffer irreparable harm.
Why? Because the school uses captured American airmen to teach young Russians how to look, think and act just like Americans so they can go to the U.S.A. and spy for their homeland without anyone having a clue as to their presence.
The American pilots have been shot down during the Vietnam war and are still listed as MIA. No one knows where they are.
When a Major Dodson makes the first-ever escape from the school and encounters a young American tourist, the first small crack in the school’s charmed life appears.
Gregory Fisher, the tourist, is given the basic facts about the school and told to go to the American embassy in Moscow.
But he panics and only manages to tell a part of the story in a phone call to the embassy. The call, of course, is monitored by the KGB and Gregory is eliminated.
Lisa Rhodes, who works in the embassy’s public relations department, takes the call and calls out the troops . . . too late. But she’s now involved and is determined to be a part of the search for the school.
Colonel Sam Hollis, American air attache to the Soviet Union, joins her and they keep digging out pieces of information that eventually lead them to the school.
But their task is complicated by the presence of CIA agent Seth Alevy, who also wants to find the school, but whose main concern may not be to rescue the 300 American pilots being held there.
He may be more concerned with the political ramifications and is listening carefully to the U.S. state department, which would much prefer that the issue simply disappear quietly.
As the plot progresses (and thickens) it looks as if Lisa and Sam may have more to fear from their own people than from the Russians.
By the time they actually arrive at the school, it’s pretty much every man for himself and their continued existence is far from assured.
Good book. Long, with a cliff-hanger ending.

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