This is a Cold War novel set mostly (and unsurprisingly) in Moscow, featuring a British Secret Service Agent (Tom Fox) who has been posted there to get him away from some trouble on his last assignment. Fox is in the midst of a marital breakdown following the death of his daughter, and there are inevitable reminders of his pain, loss, and suffering when the daughter of the ambassador’s wife goes missing. But the story is far from a simple missing person hunt, as it gradually becomes apparent. The Soviets are not keen on a Western agent doing any investigation, but Fox perseveres taking him into greater danger as he becomes enmeshed in the morass that is Soviet Russia.
The characterization is good, including more than just Fox as rounded, believable people. Fox’s personal struggles are, on the whole, pitched at the right level. And the locals are a strange, intriguing, and welcome mix of people and personalities. The interactions are good. The action is intense, and the plot is solid, and well constructed. The author handles the strands of the various complex factions with some skill, and at all times ensures the skilfully described backdrop delivers a heady dose of realism and atmosphere. There were one or two patches where a different editor might have sharpened the text, these being some of Fox’s ruminations about his dead daughter, which at times seemed flat and overdone. The writing is not as sharp as Martin Cruz Smith‘s Gorky Park, but that is probably an impossibly high standard to match or beat. This is a good, solid, entertaining read.