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Russia and her poisoners

English author Mick Herron has written an engaging series of espionage novels that are completely satisfying for the man who likes Le Carre and wished there was someone to follow in his footsteps. Not that Smiley ever left any. And like all good spy novelists, Herron has done his homework.

He mentions a few names.


Grigory Mairanovsky for instance, 1899 to 1964. Soviet bio-chemist and poison developer, head of the Bach Institute of Biochemistry, 1928 to 1935. Laboratory No.1, 1938 to 1946.

Mairanovsky initiated the secret poison program conducted by the NKVD as a member of Pavel Sudoplatov’s team.


Lt General Pavel Anatolyvich Sudoplatov, 1907 to 1996, was a member of the intelligence services of the Soviet Union and was involved in the Soviet espionage program which obtained information about the Atomic Bomb from the Manhattan Project.

Atomic Bomb / Manhattan Project / South Australia / Woomera / Adelaide / Somerton Beach.

Unidentified man found dead in 1948, probably killed by an unknown and untraceable poison.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. ellen #

    What about Boris Pash? He was assigned to PB7 which was an assassination squad. There was no CIA then but it was war time and the race to the A bomb required extreme measures.
    He was assigned to Oppenheimer, whose Communist girl friend was found with slash wrists in a bath tub reminiscent of my heroine Dorothy Gwen Graham.

    March 25, 2017
  2. Byron D found Grigor about four years ago … I’m coming in on the rebound.

    March 25, 2017
  3. ellen #

    It intrigues me that SM’s death occurred mid systole.
    I like to meditate and concentrate on my breath. There is a point in the rhythm of breathing when the lungs exhale carbon and an automatic response is triggered which causes me to inhale oxygen. There is an opioid epidemic that is causing many unintended deaths by turning off this mechanism. Even too much drinking, the heart getting too tired, bennies cause the heart to depress and stop, death ensues. So how does one stop the heart in the middle of this automatic process?
    I think the racist cop with the googly eyes gave it away when he said that it probably was some n-word poison on a blow dart. Boris was getting creative.

    March 26, 2017
  4. Byron Deveson #

    Pete, Hugh Gaitskell was quite possibly poisoned by the KGB to get their agent of influence Harold Wilson into the Prime Ministership. See: Spycatcher by Peter Wright and
    Also have a look at Nikolai Khokhlov in Wikipedia.
    Certainly by the mid 1950s the KGB had developed a “gas gun” that killed people undetectably (almost). The poison mimicked a heart attack and the only give away was microscopic shards of glass from the broken glass ampoule of the poison. Check out Nikolai Khokhlov, Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera. There are more, but these are enough to give the flavour. Sleep tight.

    March 26, 2017
  5. Byron Deveson #

    Ellen, that detective seemed to be remarkably well informed didn’t he. He could say “curare” at a time when probably not one person in a thousand had heard of it. And he had obviously spoken to an expert in toxicology. Which leads me to think that assassination with an exotic poison had been discussed with the detective, and he was paying attention and took it seriously. He could even remember the details.
    From Wikipedia “Antiaris” “Antiaris toxicaria is notorious as a poison for arrows, darts, and blowdarts. In Javanese tradition in Indonesia, Antiaris toxicaria is used with Strychnos ignatii. The latex of Antiaris toxicaria contains intensely toxic cardenolides, in particular a cardiac glycoside named antiarin. The arrow poison is called upas, which in Javanese means “poison” ….”

    March 26, 2017
  6. Wouldn’t it be noteworthy if The Honourable Pelling even halfway admittted that SM might be the victim of international meddling, given all the above.

    March 26, 2017
  7. “Might” is a lame pony from the same weak logical stable as “possibly” and “conceivably”, and sits in the sand-dune-supported company of UFO and Matrix theories.

    So yes, it might be true: and given that Elvis Presley was born in 1935, he might conceivably have taken a secret journey to Adelaide and killed the Somerton Man himself. Who he believed was his biological father. But because the Somerton Man was really an alien (can’t you tell from the ears?) preparing the planet for the Roswell invasion force, the Establishment will never let Derek Abbott exhume the body for its DNA.

    “International meddling” might be a better theory than this. But not by much. 🙂

    March 26, 2017
  8. Byron Deveson #

    Pete, check out Sidney Gottlieb in Wikipedia. Gottlieb was involved in the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro and others.

    March 26, 2017
    • ellen #

      Gottlieb and Pash called their group the Health Alteration Committee. Allen Dulles was amused by the drollery.

      March 29, 2017
  9. ellen #

    Thank you Byron for your research. It wasn’t just Roger Hollis who was exposed as a traitor but all the others who supported him, or who he served on both sides of the pond.

    March 27, 2017
  10. I have heard it said from deniable sources that a secret Russian laboratory has almost perfected the testing of an untraceable poison that can be inserted into the gap exposed by a split hair. They are advertising for volunteers. What do you say, old bean, you could borrow one of mine.

    March 27, 2017
    • No, I wouldn’t dream of standing in the way of such an outstanding opportunity for you. Imagine, you might actually be able to help advance knowledge.

      March 27, 2017
  11. My preference is to advance informed speculation, which, as we all know, is the only basis of understanding matters that continually defeat unsuccessful historical attempts to get to the bottom of the matter. This is something you should be acutely aware of, Nick, after so many years of vainly trying to get to the bottom of the V Manuscript. Nymphs notwithstanding, everyone understands the symbolism of a nude woman standing in a bucket of water.

    March 27, 2017
    • Speculation manages both to feed the trolls and to dissuade historians from even trying to unpick the knot. As methodologies goes, it really is lose-lose all the way.

      And, of course, this foolish tragedy is common to all cipher mysteries, whether they have nude women standing in buckets or unlabelled dead dudes on beaches.

      March 28, 2017
  12. Can’t say I agree with that. I’ve had enough conversations with both serving and retired policemen to realise that the use of fact based speculation can be helpful in chasing down theories. Imagination has its purpose, as do whiteboards and evenings in the pub chewing over puzzling matters.
    A couple of questions: did Jessica work in the George’s Head convalescent hospital? Did foreign agents enter Australia on merchant steamers during WW2? Was Alf Boxall trained to use one-time code when he was with the Nackeroos?

    March 28, 2017

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