The official laydown is Wednesday, but today begins the unveiling of Basic Books' embargoed release The Sword and the Shield.
At online booksellers, the real cover of the book will be substituted for the previous dummy one. It will reveal the true subtitle of the book: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. While the book trade already knows that Christopher Andrew, a Cambridge professor and KGB expert, is the author of the book, readers will now learn that its coauthor and main source is former KGB colonel Vasili Mitrokhin, who, when he defected to England in 1992, brought with him a treasure trove of copied transcripts from an extensive KGB archive that dates back to the beginning of Soviet intelligence. The material Mitrokhin supplies--including proof of the existence of secret KGB arms caches throughout Western Europe and North Ã…merica; the identities of KGB agents in the U.S. and around the world; and details of the KGB's role in disinformation about Lee Harvey Oswald, Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover and others--will provoke "an incredible outcry for the Russian government to account for," said Jack McKeown, CEO & president of the Perseus Books Group.
The information already has been deemed newsworthy enough to prompt a serial and related articles in the London Times (planned for today), a four-part BBC series (to start Sunday) and, most importantly for U.S. audiences, a segment with Mike Wallace on the September 19 season opener of 60 Minutes.
Mitrokhin's identity has been kept secret and is the reason for the stealth publishing of this book, which required Basic Books and simultaneous U.K. publisher Penguin U.K. to take part in what McKeown calls "an extraordinary cloak-and-dagger story."
Basic became the U.S. publisher of the book thanks to McKeown and acquiring editor Don Fehr's relationship with Penguin U.K. editor Stuart Profitt, who was originally approached by Andrew's agent, Bill Hamilton, about the book.
"This was not a book you could put out on multiple submission," said McKeown, who had worked with Profitt while both were at HarperCollins and went after U.S. rights for the book after receiving a tip from him 18 months ago.
There's enough material--Mitrokhin, who is in his 80s, spent 12 years smuggling his transcripts of the archives from work each day before he defected--that the authors are already under contract for another book. Basic is already pleased with the 80,000-copy sell-in of The Sword and the Shield--not a bad number for these conservative ordering times.