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Wednesday, 13th December 2006

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Reuters Mon 11 Dec 2006

Spy writers say Litvinenko case stranger than fiction

By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) - You couldn't make it up.

To thriller writers, the radiation killing of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko is a classic case of fact being stranger than fiction.

Every twist and turn in the macabre case has sparked conspiracy theories, revived memories of Cold War spying and strained relations between Russia and Britain.

Litvinenko, buried last week in the same London cemetery as Karl Marx, blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for poisoning him, a charge the Kremlin has strenuously denied.

The hunt for traces of radiation has spread from planes to hotels and hospitals, from London to Moscow, from Rome to Hamburg.

Frederick Forsyth, one of the world's most famous thriller writers, said his publisher would never believe such a plotline.

"I think my publisher would have advised me to drop it and stick to something realistic," said the author who rose to fame with "The Day of The Jackal" about a plot to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle.

"I think my publisher would have told me it was over the top and that it was time I took a rest. It is getting very difficult to write something that will not be superseded, however bizarre and crazy it is," he told Reuters.

Fascinated by the Litvinenko case, he said: "It's business as usual and possibly getting nastier, first of all inside Russia and now, it would appear, beyond its boundaries. We have not seen assassinations abroad for 20 years.

"But why go for this bizarre way of doing it and leave behind a hell of a mess?"


John Le Carre, whose richly atmospheric thrillers like "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" evoked the deadly chill of the Cold War, would not be drawn on the case.

"I'm afraid I have decided to resist inquiries on this subject," he told Reuters in answer to an e-mail soliciting his views.

"On the evidence before us I confess to complete bewilderment and do not regard my conjectures as any more reliable than anybody else's."

Solder turned novelist Andy McNab, who first rose to fame in 1993 with his "Bravo Two Zero" account of a failed SAS (Special Air Service) mission in the Gulf War, said: "Fact is stranger than fiction every time."

He, like Forsyth, felt he would be fighting a losing battle if he offered a Litvinenko-style story to his publishers.

"Trying to explain this as a plot to them would be a nightmare," said McNab, whose latest thriller "Recoil" about child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a bestseller.

"Even with seasoned editors you would be lost," he told Reuters. "Trying to explain this to a bunch of them would take all day. It would confuse everybody."

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Last updated: 11-Dec-06 14:48 GMT