The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt (Sandstone Press) is a gripping cold-war literary thriller by Colchester-based author Sarah Armstrong. It’s her third novel.In this exclusive extract from the book, Martha lands in Moscow for the first time…
Sheremetyevo Airport had the most bizarre observation building, a pillar which looked as if it supported a giant UFO on top.
‘It’s beautiful,’ I said.
‘Really?’ Kit checked to see if we were looking at the same thing. ‘It looks like a sombrero. If you’re impressed by that, then you’re mad.’
‘How can you not love it?’
Kit shrugged. ‘OK. Soviet modernism has a new fan.’ He smiled. ‘I must say, I’ve been worrying about what you were going to like about this place, but maybe it’s a great fit.’
My high hopes for architectural wonder had been dulled by the fact that the interior of the airport stank of cigarettes. Not normal cigarettes, like Kit’s Players, but something more pungent, acrid. Kit noticed my expression.
‘They’re called papirosy, filterless and pretty foul. Half of it is empty card, but they like smoking them in Russia for some reason. You’ll have to get used to the smell.’
We collected our suitcases and Kit took mine from me. I hoped this was an act, rather than him taking the husband idea too seriously.
A short woman was shouting, ‘Line up! Against the wall!’
Our planeload shuffled as close as it could while some passengers, better ones, were ushered past us and out. Some passengers shouted back in Russian.
‘This bit takes ages,’ said Kit.
We shuffled forward while the customs officers went through the baggage of all but the lucky ones, sifting through books and clothes and, in one case, removing the entire person for a more thorough examination.
‘Does that happen a lot?’ I murmured. I didn’t want to be examined. I didn’t know what they would make of the washing up liquid, dishcloths and selection of plugs that Kit had pushed into my suitcase.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Kit, but I could see he did worry. Now I worried whether I’d brought the wrong books, bad ones, by accident.
When it was our turn, we were separated, with our suitcases. I tried to look unconcerned, knowing that I had assumed the sweaty, fearful appearance of a smuggler. The officer’s hands turned over the kitchen and bathroom supplies, flicked through my books and the Mann booklet, pulled clothes and underwear onto the table. That booklet, it wasn’t right, was it? I’d only read a few pages of the stories, but it was critical, undermining, dangerous. My hands started to shake.
I felt I had escaped sentencing despite being guilty.
I followed Kit through the airport doors, where a man in a checked shirt and baggy grey trousers left the pillar he was leaning against and nodded. Kit handed him the cases.
‘Martha, this is Pyotr. He’s our driver.’
‘He doesn’t speak English,’ said Kit. He let Pyotr walk ahead and then more quietly, ‘They don’t like them to speak English when they work with foreigners.’
‘So why are you being quiet?’
‘I’m not totally sure that he doesn’t understand English, even if he doesn’t speak it.’ ‘And how is your Russian coming on?’
‘Excellent. I assume.’
We had reached the outer doors. I was surprised it was still daylight; everything seemed to have taken so long.
‘Ready?’ said Kit. I did my coat up and we walked through.
‘It feels the same temperature as at home,’ I said.
‘Today, that is true. You’ve got until winter to say that.’
Pyotr opened the door of a black limousine.
‘This is a bit posh, isn’t it?’
‘He is our driver and this is our car.’
Kit looked at me strangely and I thought, oh, this is one of those moments. Our journey began with me reviewing all of the warnings he’d given me on safe ground. Don’t ask questions in public. Don’t start conversations as you may get people into trouble for talking to you. Equally, remember that if they’re not suspicious of you, you need to be suspicious of them. Everything on paper is of interest to someone. You may think that you don’t know anything, but you’re wrong. Don’t assume that because we are alone no one can hear us. I had thought he was just saying what he’d been told to say, but now I could see he believed it. I found myself reviewing what I was going to say before I said it.
‘Do we get the tourist route?’ I asked.
He smiled, and I was relieved I hadn’t messed up.
My thanks to Ruth Killick for inviting me to take part in the blogtour. The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt is published by Sandstone Press and available now as a hardback or ebook. It will be available to buy or order from your usual book retailer or you can order a Kindle copy here: The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt
From the back of the book
Escaping failure as an undergraduate and a daughter, not to mention bleak 1970s England, Martha marries Kit – who is gay. Having a wife could keep him safe in Moscow in his diplomatic post. As Martha tries to understand her new life and makes the wrong friends, she walks straight into an underground world of counter-espionage.
Out of her depth, Martha no longer knows who can be trusted.
About the author
Sarah Armstrong is the author of three novels: The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt, The Insect Rosary and The Devil in the Snow.
Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies, and she teaches undergraduate and postgraduate creative writing with the Open University. Sarah lives in Essex with her husband and four children.
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