Classic noir themes of trust, motive, and tarnished ideals spin through this mordant, cerebral thriller about an agent on a two-tiered mission.
Veteran thriller author and former CIA op McCarry opens this latest with a cracking good setup. The narrator, an intelligence agent never named, bitterly recalls his father’s fate at the hands of Headquarters, an agency that clearly represents the CIA. To spite his bosses for thwarting his career, the father, acting independently, took in a Russian spy whose plea for amnesty may have been the genuine article or a ploy to infiltrate Headquarters, an uncertainty the father hoped would frustrate his superiors. Outraged by this dark prank, the men at Headquarters cut the father loose, stripping him of his benefits. In vivid, stinging scenes, the son recalls his father’s swift, tragic demise and vows revenge: he’ll pursue a mission that seemingly benefits, but really devastates, Headquarters. The narrator’s bilevel junket sends him to Buenos Aires, where he works with, and against, a group of revolutionaries with ties to Russia. He falls in love with one of them, Luz, a voluptuary who seems to have wandered into the plot from a 1960s Bond movie and/or a gig at the Playboy Mansion—she spends most of her time in bed pleasuring the narrator. This lack of development extends to other secondary characters, dogging the novel, especially in its midsection. Here, the narrator works through a cat’s cradle of agents and terrorists. Their uncertain, shifting, and negotiable actions lucidly illustrate the methods of spies at work, but as these characters are defined by little more than their intentions, their scenes become redundant. The narrator’s handlers, a nest of sly snakes, are somewhat more sharply developed. They send the narrator on a final errand that bookends the tale’s swift, exciting start and reaches a splendidly ironic resolution.
Good enough while it lasts, but richer characters would have made it last longer.