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Book Review: The Bucharest Legacy

Oceanview Publishing

William Maz’s suspenseful spy sequel The Bucharest Legacy: The Rise of the Oligarchs is even more cynical than his admirable debut novel two years ago, The Bucharest Dossier, but just as engaging as an exciting cold-war thriller. And maybe more significant, given continuing realpolitik in the former countries of the USSR. No need to have read Maz’s earlier book, but you’re likely to want to, or wonder if the author has more intel to exploit that sheds light on the unbelievable corruption of both West and East, CIA as well as KGB.

Maz acknowledges the psychological hold on him of an innocent childhood in Romania before leaving for an immigration camp in Greece, and moving, thankfully, at the age of 8 with his family to The States. Maz went to Harvard and earned a medical degree and began practicing medicine until a stronger passion claimed his life: writing.

The Bucharest Legacy is a well-crafted book and timely. The SVR, the foreign intelligence and espionage service of the Russian Federation, founded by Boris Yeltsin in 1991 is run now by Putin, and Ukraine is only 486.8 miles from Romania.

A little over 400 pages, the narrative, basically set in Bucharest in April 1993, takes place three years after the people’s revolution against the cruel and corrupt Communist regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Now, supposedly on its way to being a democracy, Romania is as full of political and economic intrigue as it once was --outside investors competing in supplying armaments -- to anyone - drugs, prostitutes, old apparatchiks giving way to new ones.

Maz’s protagonist Romanian-born Bill Hefflin (he anglicized his name once in America), now married to his childhood Romanian love and the father of an infant, finds himself against his wishes entangled with the CIA for whom he used to work as an analyst, then high-end field agent, handling a mysterious Russian asset, Boris, a double agent, who may have been a triple agent. As a confidant of Bill rhetorically asks halfway through the book, “Can this get any more convoluted?” It sure can.

How Maz manages to keep it all going is a marvel. But he does so with skill and authenticity. Are there ever ex-spies? Bill admits to missing the adrenaline rush of the game, as does his beautiful and talented CIA-trained wife, Catherine, who recruited him at Harvard. Bill may be trapped into working for the agency again – it’s rumored that he’s the top Russian mole in the CIA. But he knows he’s being set up and has no choice. Why and by whom are the teasers. He gets back in the action, though, fast and efficiently. And the bodies start piling up.

An agent never loses his training. Especially if one of his occasional mentors is his wife. Maz knows his native turf past and present. As a taxi driver in Bucharest says to Bill, people have plenty of food and clothes imported from Europe, but no money to buy.”. The crooks in the government are getting rich, while half the population is unemployed.” The U.S. lends Romania money to buy from American firms, he’s told. “And in the end, the American taxpayer subsidizes American business.”

What’s more, nothing seems to have changed for the Roma, still despised as Gypsies. Communists, capitalists, “Ideologies come and go. Only money remains constant.” Oligarchs rule.

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.