Brit journalist Dryden’s debut is half spy thriller, half love story—and half superb.
The narrator is Anna, youngest female colonel in the KGB. The beautiful (natch) daughter of a spymaster, she grew up in privilege in a KGB enclave. She’s assigned to seduce Finn, a charming scapegrace of a British agent who’s been posing, transparently, as a trade secretary in Moscow. Anna and Finn—each aware from the beginning of the other’s real work, and aware of the other’s awareness—embark on an affair, a professional obligation that grows into a passion. Immediately after Putin comes to power, Finn engineers his recall to England and retirement from duty. He knows the Russians will assume this is a feint and send Anna after him to divine the identity of the high-level Kremlin source he’s hinted at. Over the next few years, at first with Anna’s quiet support and eventually with her active connivance, Finn unravels a convoluted plan hatched decades earlier to launder “black money” through Luxembourg, Russia’s client states and elsewhere, and to deploy it in ways that could shift the world’s balance of power. The intrigue is wonderfully twisty, and Dryden paints a terrifying portrait of Putin’s ruthless Russia, but the romance plot is labored and clumsy, as is much of Anna’s characterization.
Terrific when it sticks to spycraft and the intricacies of geopolitics. Not so much when it attempts the intricacies of the heart.