A Very Expensive Poison

This is the first article in our new series about the books that are currently popular with our company book clubs. This carefully curated list includes titles that focus on technology, wellness, politics, the workplace and the economy. Expect a new post showcasing the highlights once a fortnight. To check out the service offering and book a consultation click here.

A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding

The Relevance

You don’t need to be interested in Russia, international relations, or security to enjoy Luke Harding’s investigative masterpiece; the unveiling of London as a playground for spies and a hotbed for murder and deceit is more than enough to keep you gripped. Russia has always been a major player on the international political scene – never more so than now. With America undergoing a process of redefining its foreign policy on a scale not seen for generations, and the UK in the throes of their own identity crisis, understanding the internal machinations of the Russian authorities and gaining an insight into the scarcely believable manner in which lethal powers are passed down the hierarchy, is both politically relevant and makes for a enthralling narrative. In our reading groups Harding’s book has prompted lengthy debate and it continues to be a popular selection for our clients and their colleagues.

The Story

More than ten years have passed since the death of Alexander Litvinenko – ample time for Luke Harding to piece together how two blundering assassins executed their somewhat rudimentary plan with the most expensive (and toxic) of poisons. Having offended the Russian government and Vladimir Putin in particular, Litvinenko sought sanctuary in London, where he received a sizable monthly stipend from the sometime-charitable oligarch and friend, Boris Berezovsky – a man whose monthly expenditure regularly exceeded $1 million. But rather than ensuring a safe distance between him and his former employers, Litvinenko was still exposed to the wrath of his riled compatriots.

The meat of Harding’s book, after the steady and careful scene-setting of the early chapters, occurs in the final third, when – after a couple of bungled attempts – two of history’s less capable hitmen make their final play. The incompetence and plain ignorance of the two men entrusted with a substance that left poisonous traces throughout west London, is – frankly – terrifying; as is Litvinenko’s chilling awareness, in the immediate aftermath of the assassin’s plot, that he had been poisoned.

The Creator

Luke Harding is perfectly placed to narrate events concerning corruption at the heart of the Russian state, having been a victim of their unscrupulous methods himself. During years spent living and reporting in Moscow as a foreign correspondent, Harding frequently found himself on the wrong side of the authorities and was subjected to intimidation and threats as comeuppance for unflattering articles he had written – an experience he catalogues in one of his previous books. Harding positions the murder of Litvinenko as the centrepiece of Russia’s broader incursions on the West, providing insight, and perhaps warning, of what is to come. This nuanced account of what is, at its heart, one family’s tragedy, makes for essential and captivating reading. Following our book groups, Luke is open to hosting events and Q&A sessions with the readers.

More details on our company book clubs can be found here. Please contact laurence@thepigeonhole.com to discuss options for your own reading group.

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