A Train to Potevka

Americans love spy stories. From James Bond to Jason Bourne, we enjoy watching and reading about them escaping with their lives with a beautiful woman at their side. Real spy work, however, isn't quite as wild as the movies or works of fiction would portray. Even though real spy work isn't glamorous as many of us believe, that doesn't mean it's boring. A Train to Potevka is a story about a real spy during the cold war. The story takes place as the Soviet Union is beginning to crumble. The author, Mike Ramsdell, is on an undercover mission in Siberia to extract a Russian criminal. Posed as a German oil investor, his cover gets blown and he's forced to flee to a safe house in the small city of Potevka -- a slow, long train ride from his current location.

During his train ride and subsequent stay in Potevka we are treated to flashbacks of Ramsdell's life from growing up in Bear River, Utah to his training to become a spy. Ramsdell's flashbacks are somewhat reminiscent of flashbacks from the television series Lost. And like Lost they serve as a useful way to get to know Ramsdell better. Each memory is specifically linked to the inner change that Ramsdell is slowly experiencing.

Though there are some harrowing and exciting moments, the real story in this book is the author's inner transformation during his stay in Potevka and decisions he makes at the end of the book. The person we meet at the beginning of the book and the one at the end are two different people. This is rarely something we see in fictional spies such as James Bond who tends to have the same persona and character no matter what happens to him.

Intermingled with Ramsdell's memories and adventures is a surprise love story that not only has a happy ending but helps show just what a powerful transformation Ramsdell experienced during that train ride to and short stay in Potevka.

A Train to Potevka has no fancy gadgets, car chases, or explosions ala James Bond. But it does contain a page-turning, character-driven story that is powerful and memorable. It's a great, fast read and a must for those who want to see what the life of a spy is really entails.