A Loyal Traitor by Tim Glister
A completely enthralling read of danger, action, and pursuit through the streets of London, this novel of Cold War espionage glows with the pace of a well written thriller. Though written in the twenty-first century, this is a book totally immersed in a time when three countries watched each other watching them with immense intensity. Richard Knox, senior agent in the British Secret services, has to negotiate challenges in March 1966 that he could never have foreseen. Abey Bennett, now at least an operative for an active CIA, is frustrated by the brutality she witnesses on both sides. This is the second Richard Knox spy thriller, but it works well as a standalone with some characters added after the brilliant “Red Corona”. The setting, of a London returning to life after the stresses of the War and harsh 1950s, is frequently seen from on high, as well as in amongst the side streets and markets at ground level. These spies are human, with regrets and doubts, and at least one mind affected by brutal treatment. Alongside events in Britain are the machinations of a departmentalized KGB as no one on any side truly knows who to trust beyond themselves. This is a world of coffee and watching, cigarettes and alcohol, and rare glamour in a Britain of contrasts. An intelligent and multilayered story of people in near impossible situations, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this amazing book.
The Prologue is a grim picture of an assassin completing a task which is stunning in its brutality. After this beginning the narrative settles down into some of the mundane aspects of a spy’s life, dealing with bad coffee and fruitless operations which must nevertheless be carried out to the letter. Not that Abey Bennett is finding her placement in the literal hotspots of American conflict mundane; somewhat horrifying and upsetting to her instincts as a skilled operative. Nevertheless she is committed to a service which is doing its best to sideline her because of her ethnicity and gender. When she is approached by a mysterious figure whose very identity seems to pose a threatening puzzle to everyone, she feels compelled to return him to London where he is known. Knox meanwhile is frustrated at supervising a younger man who is keen to show that one mistake does not prevent him from achieving his ambitions. When a mysterious summons makes him reconsider past actions and mistakes, he realises that he will need help to deal with a whole new range of possibilities. As Bennett and Holland, his mentor, become involved in the implications of a bewildering set of circumstances, he travels into a situation that could rock everything. As Knox and Bennett circle a variety of places, power politics dominate the offices of KGB rivals with ambitions and patriotism battling for dominance. An experimental vessel follows mysterious orders in a ghostly way. A single minded assassin operates across their targets, and a mind vibrates with shards of memories.
This book operates on several levels, all well described and fully detailed, but does not require extensive, or any, knowledge of Cold War politics. I recommend it as a well paced spy drama that focuses on people in all their variety, and I would definitely recommend it as a memorable read.