They've kicked him upstairs, sure, but superagent Peter Ashton hasn't lost a step.
By no means is everyone in Britain's SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) an Ashton fan (One Man Running, 2002, etc.)—“loose cannon” is among the gentler detractions—but, come on, the man has saved Old Blighty from disaster more often than Henry V and Winston Churchill combined. So, belatedly and rather shamefacedly, they've given him a department: the Eastern European desk. As his boss, that “thruster” Victor Hazelwood, who knows how much of his Director Generalship is owed to Ashton’s performance, privately acknowledges, “he hadn't always done right by the younger man.” But almost before Ashton can get his chair warm, trouble and strife have the SIS family shaking and quaking. Blame it on that other stormy petrel, Jill Sheridan, who’s even more ambitious than Victor Hazelwood. Once on the fast track to becoming SIS’s first female Director General, she has recently stumbled, taken some vicious anti-collegial hits, endured some serious bureaucratic blindsiding. To rethink tactics—and lick wounds—she's opted for a bit of vacation time in the States in the hope of improved perspective. But once there, Jill, so often the exploiter, sees the tables turned: she's victimized and humiliated with embarrassing ease. Well and truly seduced—and drugged out of her mind—she awakes in a sleazy hotel room to find herself naked, in chains, the star of a porno film, and blackmailable to her eyeteeth. Ashton and Hazelwood huddle. No way any of this can have a thing to do with the Eastern European desk, Ashton insists. Maybe not, Hazelwood admits, but the situation’s a mess—and messes are always going to be Ashton’s business.
Over the course of 31 outings, Egleton has proved that few can make reptilian bureaucratic intrigue as intriguing as he can.