Matthews explains in a historical note that his stunning debut is based on a true story. The dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov in the early Sixties helped to design “the most powerful weapon ever created by mankind.” Matthews was Newsweek’s bureau chief in Moscow and his expertise is clear throughout. His marriage of fact and fiction is masterly.
The novel unfolds in Arzamas-16, a secret city in central Russia where the apparent suicide of a young scientist through a radiation overdose threatens the success of the test. Major Alexander Vasin, a KGB officer sent to investigate, is convinced the man was murdered, but the key witnesses display varying degrees of fear and hostility. Chief among them is Professor Yury Adamov, Sakharov’s “dark twin”, who sees Vasin’s arrival as a distraction from his vital mission. Matthews writes superbly about a closed, paranoid community where everyone is fearful of failure, the KGB and being denounced as a traitor.
A distinguished former foreign correspondent, who was a bureau chief in Moscow for six years, Owen Matthews has written a stunning debut thriller... Ferocious, authentic and utterly terrifying, the tale underlines just how close humanity has come to Armageddon in its pursuit of the ultimate weapon. Absolutely riveting.