Title: Strangers on a Bridge
Author: James B. Donovan
Genre: History / Espionage
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
When I picked this up at a used book sale a few years ago the cover blurb of “As compelling as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” led me to shelve it with the rest of my spy fiction. Turns out, it is actually the true story of the trial and eventual exchange of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel as told by his lawyer who also negotiated the prisoner exchange. In 2015 this book was adapted into the Tom Hanks movie Bridge of Spies. As I type this I’m wearing a sweatshirt that says “the book was better.” This book might be one of those “exceptions that prove the rule.”
I did find the book to be fairly interesting in subject matter, but the author’s tone is dry as dust. He writes as a lawyer giving a mostly emotionless, detailed summary of events.Far more time is spent on the trial and various appeals than on the international negotiations (the trial/appeals take up 306 of 375 pages!).
I felt that there was a pervasive tone of both self-justification and self-congratulation regarding his role as a good patriotic American who cares enough about impartial American justice that he vigorously defended a Soviet spy and ensured that he received a fair trial in the American court system (and just in case I haven’t said it enough times: “American!”). His smugness aside, it did provide some interesting parallels to debates over the treatment of captured jihadists and suspected terrorists.
Overall:a bit of a slog, but worth the time (especially if you are interested in criminal justice in cases that involve international politics).