"A thriller dipped in poison ... Shares some of le Carré’s fascination with secret worlds and the nature of evil."
—The New York Times
The terrifying, lengthening list of Russia’s use of lethal poisons against its critics has inspired acclaimed author Sergei Lebedev’s latest novel. With uncanny timing, he examines how and why Russia and the Soviet Union have developed horrendous neurotoxins. At its center is a ruthless chemist named Professor Kalitin, obsessed with developing an absolutely deadly, undetectable and untraceable poison for which there is no antidote. But Kalitin becomes consumed by guilt over countless deaths from his Faustian pact to create the ultimate venom. When the Soviet Union collapses, the chemist defects and is given a new identity in Western Europe. After another Russian is murdered with Kalitin's poison, his cover is blown and he's drawn into an investigation of the death by Western agents. Two special forces killers are sent to silence him—using his own undetectable poison. In this fast-paced, genre-bending tale, Lebedev weaves suspenseful pages of stunningly beautiful prose exploring the historical trajectories of evil. 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.
"A taut spy thriller with Gothic flourishes ... It offers not only a compelling reworking of real-life events, but an insight into the psychological effects of poisoning, literal and metaphorical, in Russia and beyond.""Intensely topical .... The impetus of Mr. Lebedev's steel-tipped prose, translated by Antonina W. Bouis, is to counteract erasure. The deadly poison created by the defected chemist ... is dangerous because it leaves no trace in its victims. The absence of evidence makes accounts from the living, such as this courageous novel, all the more significant."
—The Wall Street Journal
"Dazzling … Providing a window into how evil deeds are conceived, carried out, and justified … Lebedev’s indelible triumph richly describes the inner thoughts of its characters, yet still includes the action sequences attractive to fans of the espionage novel. This makes Untraceable one of the most compelling novels on the market today."
"The topicality of this fierce novel risks overshadowing its literary and literary historical qualities. To my mind it invites comparisons with two beacons of extremism from the earlier twentieth century: Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and the terrifyingly aestheticized war diaries of Ernst Jünger."
—The Times Literary Supplement
"Lebedev writes superbly and his denouement deftly blends comedy and poignancy."
—The Sunday Times (London)
"One of Russia's most interesting young novelists takes on Putin, poison and power in this unique novel; Lebedev provides a fascinating window on modern Russia."
—Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Twilight of Democracy and Gulag: A History
"Immensely readable ... Takes the spy novel and transforms it into something akin to a political, even spiritual, allegory."
—The Financial Times
“I was captured by the velvet lyricism of his prose and his le Carré-ish plot … A geologist by training, Lebedev’s fiction excavates what lies beneath: the inner lives of earlier generations, buried under layers of official myth and self-deceit … the strange dualism that allows loving fathers to serve tyranny by day and to tuck their children up at night.”
—Luke Harding, author of Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West in The Guardian
"Probing the ... horrors that science casually inflicts on people, animals, and the environment. Though Putin is never mentioned, his malevolent presence is felt throughout. A darkly absorbing intellectual thriller by one of Russia's boldest young novelists."
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"The darkest impulses of science and power cross paths with human error and plots gone awry in Sergei Lebedev’s incisive and all-too-plausible Russian novel about nerve agents, assassination and secrets both political and personal."
—Will Englund, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post and author of March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution
"Almost prophetic ... There is an elegance, and urgency, to the narrative’s slow unfolding of secrets and memories. Untraceable invites us to look at what has been hidden in plain sight."
—The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Untraceable, beautifully translated by Antonina W Bouis, is spy fiction of the highest calibre."
—The Irish Times
"Enthralling and exquisite, by one of modern Russia’s finest writers."
—Philippe Sands, author of East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes against Humanity"
"Turn off your television sets and get reading. Sergei Lebedev writes not of the past, but of today."
—Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
"Sergei Lebedev writes beautifully ... The translation is smooth and unobtrusive. This is a most impressive account of human and state depravity and one man’s indefatigable attempts to do good at whatever cost to himself."
"This is a parable of Putin’s Russia, with memories stretching back into the era of Stalin and Hitler, with the searing awareness that no moral progress has been made since those days of horror. Spellbinding."
—A. N. Wilson, author Victoria: A Life; Tolstoy: A Biography and Wise Virgin
"Sergei Lebedev is a marvelous writer with two rare gifts: a nobility of style and the most precise inner vision, which allows him to see and plumb the entire depth of the anthropological catastrophe that occurred in twentieth-century Russia. Lebedev has perceived what was invisible to most Soviet and post-Soviet writers."
—Vladimir Sorokin, author of The Blizzard, Day of the Oprichnik and Ice Trilogy
“A spellbinding insight into a secret world that we forget at our peril, a world of assassins, spies, patriots and poison masters whose shockingly evil decisions are made in their unwavering belief of serving a greater good. A thrilling, haunting, essential read."
—Rory MacLean, author of Pravda Ha Ha: Truth, Lies and the End of Europe
"Intense from start to finish ... Untraceable explores recent Russian history through the perspectives of its central characters, who embody the worst of the Soviet Union’s obsessions and excesses ... Intelligent and stunning, Untraceable is a character-driven thriller about the price of control."
—Foreword Reviews (Starred Review)
"One of Russia’s leading writers ... Lebedev’s rich and ruminative writing raises important questions about the ethics and personal costs of perpetrating anonymous mass murder."
"The Russian government’s poisoning of political enemies provides the backdrop for this timely thriller ... Assured prose is a plus ... Those who prefer a more literary approach will enjoy the change of pace."
“Lebedev's novel is both a gripping thriller and an unflinching examination of Russia's past ... Untraceable, like a train, slowly rolls through the past, picking up speed toward the denouement, as the two assassins – whom Lebedev calls the novel’s 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern' – seem thwarted by fate but doggedly pursue their mission. Until the very last pages it is not clear if the lead agent ... will succeed."
—The Moscow Times
"Untraceable is not so much an indictment of the Soviet and then its Russian-successor regimes as of the morally void citizens they produce(d). It all works quite well ... A disturbing exposé of a morally bankrupt society and its progeny."
—The Complete Review
"Lebedev has a sharp eye for detail and a keen sense of what drives people, he conveys complex meaning with an unerring and pithy precision and does so with style and wit ... This is a novel of ethics and obsession, of entrenched divisions and how power resides in the wrong hands. A devastating portrait of modern Russia, a nation manacled to its bellicose past."
"Lebedev takes us into the murky world of those scientists who have developed the country’s deadly weapons of targeted destruction."