A very expensive poison by Luke Harding

A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia's War with the West by Luke Harding
Published by Guardian Faber Publishing on February 11th 2016
Genres: Politics, True Crime
Pages: 432
Format: Ebook

1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is brazenly poisoned in central London. Twenty two days later he dies, killed from the inside. The poison? Polonium; a rare, lethal and highly radioactive substance. His crime? He had made some powerful enemies in Russia.

Based on the best part of a decade's reporting, as well as extensive interviews with those closest to the events (including the murder suspects), and access to trial evidence, Luke Harding's A Very Expensive Poison is the definitive inside story of the life and death of Alexander Litvinenko. Harding traces the journey of the nuclear poison across London, from hotel room to nightclub, assassin to victim; it is a deadly trail that seemingly leads back to the Russian state itself.

This is a shocking real-life revenge tragedy with corruption and subterfuge at every turn, and walk-on parts from Russian mafia, the KGB, MI6 agents, dedicated British coppers, Russian dissidents. At the heart of this all is an individual and his family torn apart by a ruthless crime.

Russia is something of an enigma to most people in the west, and our perceptions of the country, its politicians, and history are definitely coloured by what we see in the media. Luke Harding’s book seeks to lift some of the veil which surrounds the country in his book ‘A very expensive poison’ which describes the poisoning of a man named Alexander Litvinenko, allegedly or apparently by agents working on behalf of the Russian government. I remember the events surrounding the poisoning, and while at the time there was a lot of noise made about who was responsible for it, nothing ever seemed to come of it, at least in my country.

The author takes us right into the world of intrigue and violence which is going on – often in plain sight – and tells a deeply personal story of what happened, and uncovers the actors who were behind the events, at least to a point. Harding is an experienced reporter, who writes in a clear and very readable style, and you get the sense of his presence there on the front lines. I suppose if a false flag job, or secret mission is pulled off successfully, there is always going to be some element of doubt remaining about the true puppetmasters. The author makes his views fairly clear, and also knows the limits on the information available to him.

I really enjoyed this book, although the story itself is a deeply tragic one, and it provided some satisfying answers about a political assassination which happened not in some strange country, but right in the heart of London. In the current environment, with a significant amount of interest in Russia and its influence in the world, this is a very relevant and cogent piece that should be of interest to anyone wanting to know more.

An intriguing spy thriller worthy of any fiction master… except that it is a true story.

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