For Jack Smith, the business of spy-craft isn’t exactly one long party, but it’s not far from it. He wines and dines and does his best to stay off the KGB’s radar. So far, Jack’s managed to maintain his cover and, as a result, he has more freedom than most Americans living behind the Iron Curtain. Jack’s latest assignment involves working with a group of Russian students and there he meets Eton Volkonsky.
Sensitive and brilliant, Eton is a physics student and comes from a distinguished family of scientists. His career path should be obvious, but Eton thrives on doing things his own way. He’s the lead singer of a local band while he tries to decide what he’s going to do with his life. And then he meets Jack. The men can’t deny their attraction to one another and, despite the risk, they began an illicit affair. But changes are coming to the world around them and Jack and Eton will be swept up in a tidal wave of politics, revolution, and social upheaval. The odds may be against them, but Jack and Eton are determined to prove that love is stronger than all else.
Of Our Own Device is set during the 80s and covers most of the decade. It primarily takes place in Soviet Russia and Germany. Both nations faced massive turmoil during the 80s, turmoil that played out on American televisions and left an indelible impact on my own childhood. Of Our Own Device covers everything from the AIDS crisis, to Chernobyl and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and does so with a strong sense of historical relevancy. The history in this book reads as factual and well defined within its place. And the fact we see so much of it from a Russian perspective adds to the novelty of the story. I don’t know anything about spy-craft, but everything about Of Our Own Device has a realistic, believable feel to it and I give the author huge kudos for the depth and breadth of the story and unwinding the complexity of Russian/US relations at the end of the Cold War. The only downside to this aspect of the book is the pacing. There are definitely moments that lagged and there were times the where the information was somewhat excessive.
Eton and Jack and are both finely crafted characters and, while there are certain aspects of their past that aren’t fully revealed, they never felt incomplete. Eton stuck me as overly naïve and so some of his narrative didn’t feel authentic. He is young, but even so his view of Jack, his country, and the world around him read as occasionally childish. Unfortunately, Jack and Eton’s romance, such as it is, doesn’t work so well. They have a handful of sexual interludes and social interactions, but honestly that’s about it. It doesn’t feel as though we get a fully evolved relationship. I never believed that these two loved so completely that they were willing to risk everything for one another. Additionally, the book ends abruptly. After such a well-detailed narrative, to have it end as it does was jarring and frustrating. We don’t get a real resolution and that annoyed me.
On the whole, Of Our Own Device is a well-written story that covers the 80s from a novel perspective and does it well. The romance never works, but the characters were still interesting enough to keep me involved in their journey. This book is a long one, so you’ll need to set aside some time to read it, but ultimately it’s worth the effort and I think most readers will find a lot to like here.