The British government also behaved in unorthodox fashion. They broke all diplomatic conventions and arrested Maxim Litvinov, the Bolsheviks’ ambassador in London and his assistants. With hostages in hand, they successfully bargained for Lockhart’s release in a two-way exchange. When Lockhart reached Stockholm on his way home, Ransome met him at the railway station. “The first words I heard from Lockhart,” Ransome recalled later, “were ‘You know, in spite of everything I am still against intervention.”
Dither or deceit? Schneer has written a rollicking and thriller-like narrative that captures the chaos and turbulence of post-revolutionary Petrograd and Moscow but leaves it to the reader to decide.
The book is worth reading for its character portraits alone. Lockhart is a flawed hero: magnetic, quick-witted but never quite brave enough to follow through on his political or romantic convictions. The author’s clear sympathies are with his lover, the mysterious Moura. She is presented as a woman wronged but resilient, a survivor and a force of nature. Her letters to Lockhart, quoted throughout the book, testify to pure love – or deep deviousness. Yet, like Dante’s devil, it is the Cheka – the Bolshevik secret police – who steal the show and, ultimately, win out. Their chief, Felix Dzerzhinsky, had learned his revolutionary craft opposing the tsar’s regime, which imprisoned him many times and subjected him to beatings so hard that he lost the ability to smile. ‘Iron’ Felix epitomised the Bolsheviks’ ruthlessness, brutality and fanaticism. This fascinating figure proves, in Schneer’s telling, to have been Lockhart’s nemesis, thwarting the British plot to overthrow Lenin in a series of masterly countermoves.