The Obedient Assassin: John Davidson
Sitting in a shed where the air permeates a stench that would make you sick and your clothes are so filthy you can hardly stand yourself is a young Lieutenant named Ramon Mercader. A lieutenant in the Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War, he is conscripted to become part of a sinister plot. How far would you go to better your life? How far will you go because your mother told you to do something? Leonid Trotsky has to die and Joseph Stalin had a plan to make sure that happened. Stalin’s orders were to be followed to the letter as he enlisted Mercader to infiltrate Trotsky’s organization. But, just why would he leave his horrific situation and how did his mother, Caridad convince him. Loyal to the party and standing tall, stoic and unfeeling she watched her son executed. The reasons explained but Ramon unforgiving yet having no choice but to follow Stalin’s orders. In order to get become part of Trotsky’s organization Ramon needs to recreate himself as another person. Deceptions, lies and betrayals begin to come easy to him as she slowly weaves a tapestry of a man that after a while he might not recognize. Sylvia Ageloff is the key to his success as she has access to Trotsky and supports his Fourth Directive. Careful to portray himself as someone that would not give away his real identity he takes the position of a Belgian aristocrat. Within his disguise he not only forges ahead with his goals but manages to reinvent Sylvia as well. Changing her demure appearance and convincing her to be more than just a friend he eventually gets her to become even closer and confide in him. Along with her two closest friends he manages to attend meetings related to the Fourth Directive in order to achieve his objectives. Marrying Sylvia achieves one goal and going to New York and then Mexico an a second as Ramon becomes adept at being a husband and of course a spy. At times appearing rather cold, linear and definitely austere, Ramon manages to become what his mother wants a man whose allegiances are filled with uncertainties, mixed feelings and confusion. The time period focuses on the Spanish Civil War but the assassination of Trotsky takes center stage.
Just how far did this 22-year-old Lieutenant go to achieve the goals set out for him by others? What would the ultimate price be for his loyalty? Fighting in the war led to conditions that were deplorable and when Caridad appears and takes him to Paris he has no choice but to agree. But, within the recesses of his mind he cannot forgive or forget the murder of his brother Pablo for disregarding orders. Understanding that his mother is there to protect him and is a Russian agent loyal to Stalin his job is to make sure that Trotsky’s days are numbered by becoming one of his followers and attending one of his conferences.
But, Ramon is clever and creates a persona that he thinks has fooled Sylvia yet at times many red flags pop up as she confides in her friend Marguerite about her suspicions about Jacques/Ramon and her fears that he might be a spy. Wanting to know more about is work she goes to where she thinks his office might be and is shocked at what she finds. With plans in place to raid Trotsky’s house and finally take him out, the sloppiness of the plan and the fact it goes sour makes leaves everyone on edge. Assassinations, arrests, killings, lies, deceptions and a trail of well planned out events that would make anyone suspicious the author takes readers deep inside the world of The Fourth Directive, the GPU as Ramon infiltrates more than just Trotsky’s organization but befriends a woman named Frida Rivera and her husband Diego who offered both Trotsky and his wife a safe haven in his gated home. But, the atmosphere is tense; his lies are building up, his journey to Mexico enlightening and the final result yet to come. Torn between his goals and his feelings for Sylvia, Ramon faces many unforeseen challenges in his personal and political life. Skilled at convincing his wife that all is okay, using her for information about her job, enlisting the help of artist Frida Rivera, he uses both as pawns in his mission. But, Sylvia appears to be naïve yet is not. Just what happens will bring tears to the reader’s eyes and create some heart stopping moments. Teams in place, an outline of the estate created as Siqueiros listens as Ramon outlines the blueprint for the estate, discusses those that he has enlisted, using the guard to let them in and the disastrous first result. Thinking that Trotsky will compromise or cripple the Russian leftist cause he wants Trotsky gone. Reminding himself he split the leftists in Spain, Stalin makes sure that the pieces are in place to take this man out.
A failed mission and who will be blamed as the events are summarized and we learn that the painter Siqueiros is talking to the papers, led the mission, failed and that two of the men that were part of this attack were his assistants. Taking an American named Robert Sheldon Harte was the painter’s idea but the authorities were called in but not really worried. As the players come together Ramon remains calm claiming her knows Trotsky’s and the Fourth International quite well and does not fear any opposition or threat. Just what the Kremlin wants you won’t believe as she hear the voices of Caridad and Eitingon. What will Ramon do and how does he feel that all eyes are on him? What if he fails in his mission? Just who else will feel the fall out? But, the harsh realities begin to set in as the body of the American is found and the sight described of the bloodstained mattress and the grotesque burial will give you chills and maybe even nightmares. As Colonel Sanchez in charge of the investigation brings the body to the Palacio Municipal in Coyoacan, Trotsky went with his wife to identify the body.
Jacques/Ramon once again disappears like Houdini leaving Sylvia alone with packets of money. The author describes the packages quite vividly and as Sylvia begins to question many things. But, Jac phones her relates that he is ill and his appearance is quite startling when she arrives. The ruse continues as Jac endears himself with Trotsky’s family especially his grandson and finally meets the man himself as he is enlisted to help with his biography.
Floor plan in place the sequence discussed but not everything goes as planned. Remorse, fear, nerves, rehearsing if he gets caught, wanting to back out, used by his mother and the GPU what happens when he carries out the act you just won’t believe and the end result of more than tragic. Blame cast on others and a man whose life would radically change, as instead of being cast as a hero he was an embarrassment of the past. The brain of a brilliant man was destroyed and another was used to eliminate him. August 20th would always be remembered and Ramon Me carder as the pawn whose actions were set in motion by Stalin, Beria, Leonid Eitingon, his lover Caridad, Ramon’s mother were the ones who murdered the founder of The Red Army. Jacques Mornard, a Belgian journalist murdered Trotsky. His fate you will have to read for yourself. The end result of his life with Sylvia and what happens to her fill the pages of the last chapter as you the reader decide: Who was the real tragic figure? How far will you go when you mother gives you no choice? How far did this man go because he realized he could not turn back? Based on the real events of the assassination of Trotsky the author’s research, description of the murder and the events leading up to it bring you back in time to take the journey from start to finish from the filthy shed he was rescued from, New York, Mexico, France and countries around the world, Ramon Mercader: Just who was he? Did anyone really know?
Fran Lewis: Reviewer