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KINGS OF MANY CASTLES by Brian Freemantle


by Brian Freemantle

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-30412-9
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Despite a two-novel rest, MI5’s Charlie Muffin returns to the fray a bit frayed at the edges.

He’s a little grayer, plumper, slower on the uptake, and maybe in need of still more vacation. Even so, Charlie makes the scene with enough residual style to assure a performance classier than what you get from the bulk of the genre’s spying fraternity. This time out, Charlie’s been posted to Moscow, where we find him living secretly with Natalia Fedova, his long-time girlfriend—and mother of his child—who’s now a very senior official in Russian intelligence. Charlie's relationship with Natalia is frayed at the edges, too, the strains and stresses of inimical jobs having begun to wear down sensibilities. Shove all that to the back, however, when shots are suddenly fired and complications ensue on a variety of diplomatic fronts. The Russian president is gunned down, as is the wife of the visiting American president, both severely wounded, neither certain to survive. Arrested and charged with the crime is George Bendall, son of the infamous British turncoat who defected some 30 years earlier. At first—what with a battery of TV news cameras bearing full witness—agreement is general that the case against Bendall is rock-solid, but Charlie has seldom been swayed by conventional wisdom. He picks up on a familiar scent, the one given off by sweaty conspirators manipulating events on behalf of iniquitous agendas. In fact, what Charlie smells is the KGB—never mind that it no longer exists. Old spooks never dematerialize, he knows. They simply change their acronyms.

Charlie’s battles in the bureaucratic killing fields are usually worth the price (Dead Men Living, 2000, etc.), but here we get them unstintingly. It turns out to be too much of a good thing.