Her Majesty's agent Peter Ashton (A Killing in Moscow, 1994, etc.) returns for more invigorating, albeit confusing, Eastern European derring-do. Who is Valentin? British intelligence types have been asking this question since 1967, when Val first surfaced with the goods on an unchecked epidemic in the Soviet Union. Now, Valentin wants to meet Ashton to turn over some as-yet-unspecified super-secret stuff—but Ashton isn't buying, at least until he finds out what the informant is selling. Meanwhile, in Germany, Jochaim Wolff, a prominent neo-Nazi is plugged by a gunman known as ``The Englishman.'' The assassin, whose real name is Martin Nicholson, is one ruthless guy, so both the Nazis and legitimate authorities would love to ask him a few questions. Eventually, Nicholson surrenders to the English in Germany, not so much out of national pride, but to escape captors not bound by the usual prisoner ethics code, or by the uncertainties of the German penal system. Soon after, he begins to sing like a chorine in a Gilbert and Sullivan production. It seems that Nicholson was hired for the gig by a Russian who was doing a favor for a friend in the German police. The Germans wanted Wolff dead, but didn't want it traced to them. Naturally, this Russian is our Valentin. But why did he rat Nicholson out? To get to the bottom of it all, Ashton wings back to Moscow, where he arranges to meet with Valentin in person, but on the way to the rendezvous, a gunfight ensues, and Ashton is imprisoned by Russian authorities and questioned. Lamentably, even these 11 weeks of interrogation tell the Russians precious little about Valentin, Nicholson, the Nazis, or any of the other byzantine plot twists. We the readers, however, get even less—thanks to 300-plus deftly written, occasionally humorous, but confounding-to-the- point-of-distraction pages.
Read full book review >