Alex Dryden is the pseudonym of a British journalist who lived in Russia for more than 15 years. Red to Black is his first novel, a thriller that offers a sobering view of Putin's Russia.

Why did you use a pseudonym?

My research concerned real people and events. When the decision was made to write a novel, there were aspects I considered might endanger sources and to a lesser degree myself. A pseudonym won't protect anyone against a concerted effort, but it at least offers limited protection.

Were you ever a staff writer during your time in Russia?

No, I was always freelance and worked for many publications. Being a staff journalist means that you're shepherded by the state agencies—with the threat of having your visa withdrawn if you pursue lines of inquiry you're advised against pursuing. Intelligence work was the consistent, underlying factor behind my presence there.

You say that more than 60 journalists have been murdered in Russia since Putin became head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, in 1998.

That's the domestic count. Of course, we don't read about the vast majority of these murders in the West. Some of the murders are not officially murders, since the FSB always has the Russian police and judicial system to back up its own fiction.

You've said the Kremlin doesn't want uncomfortable truths published and will go to any length to prevent that. Does fictionalizing those truths provide a shield?

Yes. Red to Black is fiction. But as Ed Lucas at The Economist pointed out to me after the book was published in the U.K., maybe fiction is the only way to write the truth about Russia these days.

Your book is intended as a kind of wakeup call for the West. Has it had that effect?

I don't think Red to Black can take the credit for waking up the West to the increasing threat of Russia. In fact, the West has been waking up recently, and the reason is Russia's own actions.

Red to Black posits a dire economic threat to Western nations. Has that threat increased or decreased since the book's publication?

Energy—oil and natural gas—is the Russians' royal flush and the West's—particularly Europe's—weak hand. They have it, we don't. As long as we need them, the economic threat will remain. It's hard to say if the threat has changed in the past year. The economic crisis has had the effect of lowering energy prices and badly damaging Russia's balance of payments. But as soon as energy prices start to rise, so will the threat.