Thursday, January 06, 2011

Red Star Rising by Brian Freemantle

Protagonist: Charlie Muffin
Setting: Russia
Rating: 4.0
Charlie Muffin, an MI5 agent, is sent to the British embassy in Russia when a dead Russian is found murdered on the grounds. The dead man’s fingertips have been scorched with acid, so there’s no easy way of learning his identity. And the Russian government is insisting they retain control of the investigation. Once there, Muffin finds the British investigation has been slipshod, with the Russians taking away the body before much forensic work could be done. He also discovers that the embassy has been bugged. To complicate matters, the last time Charlie was in Russia (this is the 14th book in a series) he secretly married a KGB agent, Natalia. Together, they had a daughter, Sasha. Now, years later, Charlie tries to salvage that relationship and convince Natalia to return with him to England.

Although billed on the cover as a thriller, this is not the usual spy novel filled with car chases and dangerous undercover missions. Much of the spycraft involves a war of words and subtle techniques such as press conferences (and who attends). While the Cold War has ended, there is still much mistrust and dissembling among the Brits, Americans and Russians. Freeman has been compared to John le Carré, and this novel is very much like le Carré’s classic works, more intellectual intrigue than action -- and that’s just fine with me.

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