From Nazi labs, Stalinist plots and the Chechen Wars, to present-day Russia, Lebedev probes the ethical responsibilities of scientists supplying modern tyrants and autocrats with ever newer instruments of retribution, destruction and control.
... explores recent Russian history through the perspectives of its central characters, who embody the worst of the Soviet Union’s obsessions and excesses. Kalitin and Shershnev are ruthless, self-absorbed men who never once question the rightness or wrongness of their actions. Their singleminded focus prevents them from realizing what they really are: relics of a faded empire whose carefully cultivated lack of morals will prove to be their undoing. This makes the narrative intense from start to finish ... Smooth prose is used to explore their psyches, proving far more insightful than the characters themselves are. Their histories breed paranoia; pressure mounts as small details go awry during these, their most important of missions ... Intelligent and stunning, Untraceable is a character-driven thriller about the price of control.
The Kremlin’s alleged assassinations and attempted killings almost seem designed to generate Bond-villain headlines ... The details surrounding these cases are so lurid that at times they feel fictional, and with Untraceable, Sergei Lebedev has won the race to write the first serious (and immensely readable) spy novel about such poisoners. We can be thankful that a Russian did ... Untraceable echoes the stories we read in the headlines, starting with the poisoning of a Russian defector in an unspecified European city. But the most interesting parts of the novel are pure invention and centre on a Soviet chemist named Kalitin ... [Lebedev] takes the spy novel and transforms it into something akin to a political, even spiritual, allegory.
Lebedev uses flashbacks to build complicated characters and intensify the plot, but these sometimes slow and confuse ... Assured prose is a plus but the weak ending will disappoint genre readers, as will the lack of action and heroic characters. Those who prefer a more literary approach will enjoy the change of pace.