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This is more a "secret history" than a full alternative history, as it takes the premise that McCarthy was always a willing Soviet agent and his real witch-hunts were a disinformation strategy. Pulling this off would take a lot of research and a very strong handle on the period & personalities, and Kresal has got all of this going for him here. The research and the invocation of the time - both in the US and USSR - almost makes it feel plausible, which is pretty good work when we _know_ the premise is made up!
McCarthy himself is a fascinatingly loathsome yet three-dimensional figure, driven by ego and a bitter sense he's _owed_ prominence after all the (legitimate) work he's put in, that he can't end it as an also-ran. You can almost feel sorry for him but you still don't want the git to win or be near you!
Sometimes Alternate History is about a scholarly exploration of 'what-if', but some of the best AH works - such as 'Agent Lavender' from the same publisher - instead focus on exploring what a conspiracy theory would be like in reality if there was any truth to it (which, to be clear, the author is clear there isn't!) In this case, from the waspish observation that Joe McCarthy's actions did so much damage to the United States that he might as well have been acting on behalf of the USSR, snowballs into an imaginative account of just that. It would be easy for this to be a one-punchline premise that doesn't go anywhere, but instead Kresal keeps the reader's interests with tons of fun historical trivia about the inner workings of Soviet intelligence and Washington in the 1950s. A great debut and highly recommended.
Although this is a fictionalised account of possible events, this novel manages to create a scarily plausible scenario. The story uses real-world events of the time, weaving through them, adding to the reality of this alt history story. The characters are well written and likeable, which helps the novel move along at a crisp pace. Covering several years, the book details exactly how a conspiracy of this sort could be conducted, and successfully at that. In fact, it really does make you wonder…