Thursday, June 08, 2023

Katherine Reay's A Shadow in Moscow shows two courageous women's lives in Russia during the Cold War

There are some historical settings most comfortably observed from a safe distance, like the pages of a novel. We can be simultaneously gripped by the characters’ world and relieved we aren’t living through the same dark, pressure-laden environment. Such is the case with Cold War Russia, where Katherine Reay’s A Shadow in Moscow takes place.

The story alternates between two women in different eras, both of whom risk their lives in spying against the Soviet regime.

In 1980, Anya Kadinova is a senior at Georgetown University through her home country’s Foreign Studies Initiative, enjoying a romance with a fellow student, a spring break trip, and the freedom to read English-language novels. But her “case officer,” an upwardly mobile young man with the KGB, keeps a close eye on her movements and meets with her monthly to exchange news. After Anya returns to Moscow, she intends to emulate her parents and conform to the Soviet ideal, but when the KGB targets her good friend, she’s compelled to reach out to the CIA.

A second plotline set years earlier features Ingrid Bauer (not her real surname), a native of Vienna, who grows up in a household full of secrets she doesn’t always understand. A decade after her world was shattered during WWII, she weds Leo, a Russian man she barely knows, and settles into life in Moscow, knowing she must keep her maternal British heritage to herself. As her husband’s career expands (Ingrid suspects he’s with the KGB), their lifestyle becomes more opulent while the family’s sense of paranoia increases. No one suspects that she, a model Soviet wife and much-admired hostess and museum worker, could be passing secrets to the British.

The dialogue-heavy plotline ensures quick pacing for the story, which immerses us in the ultra-tense environment of a totalitarian regime where the state takes primacy over individual freedoms or thought. Homes and public phones are frequently bugged, and the steps the protagonists take in the “dry cleaning” process – losing any enemy agents on their trail – are elaborate and time-consuming.

Although Ingrid’s astonishing success (she comes to influence world politics at the highest level) feels far-fetched at times, the novel does demonstrate the clandestine heroism of the two women, whose roles are kept so closely guarded by their handlers that they aren’t aware of one another except by code name. The setting, within the living memory of many people today, is chilling and makes one admire the courage of anyone who dared to reach out from behind the Iron Curtain.

A Shadow in Moscow will be published by Harper Muse on June 13. This review is part of the book's online tour coordinated by Austenprose PR.





Katherine Reay is a national bestselling and award-winning author who has enjoyed a lifelong affair with books. She publishes both fiction and nonfiction, holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, and currently lives outside Chicago, Illinois, with her husband and three children.



  1. Mystica Varathapalan11:37 PM

    Sounds another good story during this period

    1. Yes - I haven't read many set during the Cold War in Russia and enjoyed this one.