Just because they lost the Cold War doesn’t mean the Russians aren’t still capable of minor skullduggery.
Liz Carlyle has been sent from MI5’s Counter-Terrorism unit to Counter-Espionage. The move feels like a demotion, since everyone knows that the action these days is in fighting terrorism (Secret Asset, 2007, etc.). And indeed the assignment Liz lands sounds like a blast from the past. The recent movements of an economic attaché of the Russian Embassy in Berlin have Her Majesty’s Secret Service convinced that he’s a government assassin coming to England to ply his trade. His most likely target is Nikita Brunovsky, an oligarch who already has one bodyguard, chauffeur Jerry Simmons, but is attracted enough to Liz to ask that she be sent into his household as well. Liz bridles at the assignment. Her cover identity as an expert on Sergei Pashko, a Russian painter whose work Brunovsky collects avidly, is paper-thin, and she’s not trained in personal protection. But she accepts the job and soon finds that the Brunovsky entourage—girlfriend Monica Hetherington, banker Harry Forbes, magazine editor Greta Darnshof, decorator/art dealer Marco Tutti and diverse émigré hangers-on—is even less interesting than her Intelligence colleagues. Surviving an attack that almost kills her, Liz has no new clues, but only an increasing sense of urgency as she wonders whether she can identify the turncoat in Brunovsky’s circle in time to save herself and the man she’s been sent to protect. Sadly, this urgency is unlikely to be shared by readers who wonder why saving Brunovsky is worth the trouble Liz takes and don’t much care which of the pasteboard suspects will turn out to be guilty.
Forget the fate of nations in the shortest, least consequential and least suspenseful of Liz’s three adventures to date. It’s hard not to share the feelings of her old boss: “To him these people were like characters in a play.”