Red Corona by Tim Glister
This is a spy thriller set in 1961, when the Corona programme was the American’s attempt to establish a surveillance programme as part of the “Space Race” with the Russians. While pushing the edges of knowledge and experiment, this was still a very basic race of people fighting for information, and it is through the eyes of three people Glister has chosen to demonstrate how very delicate the balance was. This is a powerful story of three people, two women and one man, who embody much about the Cold War battle of scientists and spies. Set mainly in a battle scarred London of buildings damaged and destroyed in the recent blitz, three people battle for their freedom and lives against forces that are seemingly one step ahead. Richard Knox is an agent of MI5 forced out by a recent mysterious incident, but he is keen to discover what is really going on. Irina Valera is a brilliant scientist with a breakthrough idea – and little left to lose. Abey Bennett is a rare CIA recruit who is fighting a system which has dismissed her for her entire life, but who has a determination to discover the truth. This taut and powerful novel twists and turns as three people discover that trust is a rare thing, and that knowledge can be power. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this brilliant debut novel.
As the novel opens, Knox is in a London pub, struggling to come to terms with his effective dismissal from MI5 as his immediate boss and chief supporter, Holland, has disappeared from the scene. He is thrown a case to investigate amidst his gloom, and soon discovers that the implications of two dead bodies may well exceed a double murder, and points to a bigger conspiracy. Meanwhile in a Russian village Valera and her young son struggle for a bare existence in a town almost run on prison camp lines. Her work on communications in space may well be on the cutting edge of changing the world, but her son attends a school next to a power station, and food is only available to those in favour with the man in charge of the area. A grim existence is destroyed at the moment of her discovery of a new idea, and her next actions will mean a change into more danger. Bennett knows that her parentage and gender has always worked against her despite her determination and talent, and has discovered that her work in the American Embassy in London has not meant new opportunities for more meaningful challenges unless she seeks them out for herself.
None of the three characters are prepared for the dangers that they are running in this superb thriller as the twists and turns mean everything is threatened. The scientific research represented by this novel is tremendous; the early sixties was a time of immense breakthroughs in many ways, but also a time of the jealous guarding of knowledge and those who possessed it. As the various agencies and forces in play in this genuinely gripping book collide, I found it a very human and understandable thriller that held my interest throughout. This is a very well written, paced and plotted book, and I thoroughly recommend it as an exciting read.