Superspy Quiller’s 19th and final appearance, which sets him against the most evil man in Russia, might have come out of a time capsule.
And in a sense it did, since this yarn, finished shortly before Hall’s death in 1995 and published in the UK the following year, makes its first US appearance only now. The franchise may be showing its age—the old Soviet Union’s back broken, Russia is hanging in the balance between Yeltsin and Zhirinovsky—but Quiller himself is no more world-weary than he was in the adventures that stretched from The Quiller Memorandum (1966) to Quiller Salamander (1994). And his reputation precedes him. Croder, the Chief of Signals who briefs him in-country, knows he’s the only agent with a prayer of bringing down Mafiya kingpin Vasyl Sakkas, who’s been dealing body blows to the nation’s infant free-market economy, in what looks like a suicide mission. When Quiller asks, “What toys will I get?,” he doesn’t mean the custom suits, the Barclay gold card, the Heckler and Koch P7, the million dollars; he’s asking who’ll run him in the field. And the answer comes up trumps: premier field director Ferris will be pulled off another op, and legendary Croder himself will supervise. But as Quiller inches his way toward Sakkas by means of Vishinsky, a midlevel Mafiyosa called the Cobra, and Natalya Anatova, a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi, his handlers begin to back away from the operation, and when they threaten to shut it down, Quiller threatens to go to ground to get the goods, or the drop, on Vasyl Sakkas by himself. If the ending seems a bit abrupt after all the complications, a pair of affecting codas explains why.
Now that James Bond has been turned over to the special-effects department, Quiller’s last testament, more than any sign short of le Carré’s adieux, marks the passing of an era.