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Book Review : Dance of Plot Holes and Soviet Moles

February 27, 1986|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

Freedom Dance by Dallas L. Barnes (Here's Life, P.O. Box 1526, San Bernardino 92402: $10.95)

Leonid and Valentina Koslov, once minor stars in the Bolshoi, dance in America now. This easy-reading book by Dallas L. Barnes, a former Los Angeles police detective turned novelist, offers a light and fanciful version of how an Eagle Rock vegetable monger and his Russian-speaking wife teamed up with a pair of off-duty Wilshire Division detectives to help the dancers defect one Sunday night in September, 1979.

The Koslovs' dance to freedom began with an unexpected pas de deux in the dressing rooms of the downtown Broadway department store. The ballerina's Russian attracted the curiosity of the impoverished Eagle Rock woman, whom Barnes calls Sasha Rollins. An unidentified friend of the Koslovs--to whom the book is dedicated along with words of hope for the well-being of this brave man--later hunted the Eagle Rock couple down through the telephone directory to seek their aid.

How do ordinary folks help a pair of Bolshoi dancers defect? Therein lies Barnes' tale, part Christian brotherly love, part American make-do and part Keystone Kops.

As Barnes tells it, the Koslovs finished "Swan Lake" at the Shrine Auditorium and in costume (Leonid as Prince Siegfried) ran off the stage into an alley and leaped into a waiting van, a gaggle of KGB agents in rented cars giving pursuit. (In fact, the ballet was "Romeo and Juliet," and Leonid's character, Tybalt, died at least an hour before final curtain.)

The defection didn't happen that dramatically. Therein lies a major problem not only with "Freedom Dance" but a growing number of books published under the dubious rubric of "true life" novels. Barnes opens with a note that "some characters and incidents in this novel are true, while others have been changed to protect privacy . . . and lives. Some characters and incidents are entirely the product of the author's imagination. . . ." This quickly becomes obvious because Barnes presents the unspoken, and very un-Russian, thoughts of a KGB major.

At the close of "Freedom Dance," Barnes writes that "the story you have just read is true." As I was reading this book, one of my seven children interrupted, trying to pass off a tale that seemed plausible enough until one detail aroused my suspicion. Once part of the story isn't true, how believable is any of it?

All We Really Know

All we know for sure here is that the Koslovs did defect and that an Eagle Rock couple and two Los Angeles cops helped them. But what of the rest? For example, it stretches credulity to believe the detectives risked their careers by helping the two Russians defect, given Police Chief Daryl F. Gates' public statements criticizing, even attacking, the Soviet government.

This is a simple book, neither deep nor subtle; a bit like a novelization of an episode of a network-TV cop show, of which Barnes has written many. Like those of most TV cop shows, the plot is riddled with holes.

The book is didactically Christian, increasingly so as the author heads toward the climax. He portrays the FBI as flawlessly skilled in electronically following the KGB guards assigned the dancers. But, when the dancers flee, Barnes makes no mention of the G-men who, by his own account, were all about.

Barnes creates a fantasy worthy of Robert Welch with so many KGB moles abounding in the United States that telephone toll records and vehicle registration data are just a moment away from the Soviet state security forces. But among the gaping plot holes is Barnes' failure to explain how, if the FBI has such super-duper electronic surveillance data, the KGB colonel with the ballet company could make telephone calls for such information without exposing these moles.

Still, a pleasant read.

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