Stories are easy to tell. It is not easy to tell a story well, and even more difficult to tell a story exceptionally well. Twisted Reasons is just such a story, and Tatrallyay has told it extremely well. Set in locations including New York City, Vienna, Chelyabinsk, and several others, Twisted Reasons weaves together the twisted threads of nuclear ambition in the post-World War II days of the Soviet Union with those of the present day.
At the heart of the story is semi-successful crime-drama writer Greg Martens, who is drawn to Vienna, Austria, by an invitation to deliver an address at a literary conference sent to him as a result of mistaken identity. This is an opportunity to reconnect in Vienna with his boyhood friend Adam Kallay, to take a trip into Hungary and see the homeland of their respective families. Kallay is the second central figure in the story, an agent working to oversee the reduction and processing of the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. The third central character is Anne Rossiter, an Interpol agent working from Vienna. Kallay has informed her of the theft of an amount of highly enriched uranium (HRU) from the site he has been monitoring. The HRU is weapons grade, and will no doubt be smuggled out of Russia and sold to a terrorist group. He wants to meet with Rossiter to give her the details of what he knows. The plot twists begin when Martens arrives in Vienna and learns that Kallay has apparently been killed in a hit-and-run accident that same afternoon, which was also the very day he was to have met with Rossiter. Martens and Rossiter meet at the morgue the next morning, puzzled by the fact that Kallay's body has already been cremated.
Through various incidents and inquiries, they are lead to a young Russian woman named Julia Saparova whom Kallay had supposedly been helping to obtain legitimate work as a nuclear physicist. She is the innocent connection that brings them into contact with men who are in actuality the purveyors of the theft of HRU. As the story develops, Martens and Saparova, and eventually Rossiter as well, come to realize that Kallay was not killed, and has instead faked his death in order to go into Russia to 'hunt down' the thieves and recover the nuclear material. By leaving various clues, Martens is able to follow him into Russia, where he comes to understand the stark reality that was the Soviet Union and that still lingers in the present day. The twisted paths by which the various characters travel through the story eventually brings them together in a show-down that sees one half of the HRU recovered, and the other half lost into the hands of terrorists. Duplicity abounds, and it is never entirely clear until this denouement whether Kallay is a bad man pretending to be good, or just a good man gone bad. Perhaps, given the bits and pieces of his life story that are interspersed throughout the tale, he is both.
The introduction to the story is equally fascinating. It is an account of how the workers forced to build the first Soviet nuclear reactors at the Mayak site in Chelyabinsk were treated in 1947. Scientists and engineers all, many undoubtedly brilliant minds who would have made incredible contributions to the advancement of science and the good of the world, were instead wasted en masse and disposed of like so much useless garbage. In order to push the production of a Soviet nuclear bomb, they had been made to open nuclear fuel rods by hand after an accident in order to recover the enriched uranium inside. After just six days of such prolonged exposure, radiation poisoning was so advanced that workers were loaded onto trucks, driven away from the gulag where they had been ensconced, and shot. Their bodies were then dumped into the nearby lake. The introduction tells of one such man begging his friend to deliver a letter to his wife, if he can, because he knows he will die the next day. This man was the grandfather of Greg Martens. The incident is a relevant tie-in to the present day in the story, as the history and condition of the Mayak site is described.
Throughout, the story is punctuated by reflections and memories from Greg Martens' past, of the stories his grandmother would tell while sitting on the front porch of a summer's eve. They range from the night her husband was taken away in Hungary to end up a victim of the Mayak fiasco, through accounts of her subsequent life in Soviet-era Hungary, their escape to Austria and then to the United States. The poignancy of the stories underscores the narrative beautifully and the recollections are never overdone.
Twisted Reasons is at times quietly intriguing, at times lurid with gritty reality, at times tension-filled and explosive. Above all, it is well written, well founded in history and presents a scenario that is all too chilling in its plausibility. It lays bare the manner in which the mistakes and ambitions of the present day are constructed on the errors and blind ambitions of the past, and reveals that simple truth stated so succinctly in the phrase “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Twisted Reasons is highly recommended reading.