The Charm School is my favorite Cold War novel of all time and one of my favorite novels of any genre, ever. This is a powerful, well-written, and disturbing novel of Cold War intrigue. It takes place in the old Soviet Union circa 1988, and DeMille's research about, and visits to, the USSR around this time have given this novel an authenticity that resonates throughout the novel. DeMille captures the tension of the Cold War conflict, the sorrow of the Russian people and the contradictions in the old Soviet state ("with gravel roads, ICBMs, and a world-class Secret Police service..."). This is a superb novel.
Without committing any spoilers, the plot is simple, powerful, and disturbing. Two US diplomats in the Soviet Union discover a terrible secret: that over 1000 US MIA pilots shot down over Vietnam have been spirited away to Russia. The purpose is to allow the Soviets to set up "Mrs. Ivanova's Charm School" which is a KGB academy in which the pilots are forced to teach aspiring Russian spies how to act, speak, and pass as Americans. The KGB will go to literally any lengths to keep the existence of "The Charm School" a secret. The rest would be telling. This is a great story.
DeMille literally transports the reader to Soviet-era Russia. His prose dealing with the Russian people, the Soviet government, the vast country, and the long-suffering people to me seemed to capture at least some of the essence of that great and troubled country. The novel moves at a fast-pace without racing to the finish; the reader is allowed to "smell the flowers" along the way, but the storyline never drags. This novel manages to do what very few novels ever succeed in doing: it is a classic of its genre, as well as a ripping page turner.
"The Charm School" ranks with DeMille's "Word of Honor" as a true masterpiece that belongs in every reader's library.