Internecine war continues to rage as Egleton delivers his 29th adventure chronicling the secret life of the Secret Intelligence Service (Dead Reckoning, 1999, etc.).
These career-obsessed wolves in bespoke English tailoring quarrel, backbite, jockey for position endlessly and shamelessly—and sometimes even manage to do their job, which is to keep Old Blighty safe from that parade of international lowlifes intent on messing her up. Peter Ashton, hero of this sturdy series, whose official rank (Grade One Intelligence Officer) scarcely does justice to his counterespionage capabilities, is, needless to say, a breed apart. He’s a pro, perhaps even a patriot, certainly world-class in terms of skill and accomplishment. This time out, he’s called into play when the bad guys—bossed by one Oswaldo Herrara, former head of Fidel Castro’s secret service but now a freelance—come forcefully to SIS attention. In behalf of his new clients (either the Turks or the Greeks: Egleton doesn’t really make this clear, nor does it really matter), the wicked Colonel Herrara has kidnapped a diplomatically protected Queen’s Messenger, an act usually considered bad form in the spying fraternity. When the QM turns out not to have in his possession that which the Colonel expected him to, he becomes the recipient of gratuitous bodily harm, infuriating Ashton with its blatant excessiveness. Thus the manhunt is on, and a twisty, no-holds-barred chase it is. But, as always, most of the fun is in the vicious, hand-to-hand combat among the uncivil servants as they vie for place and power. Ashton, often caught in no-man’s-land, a fly in the ointment of one faction or another, has to somehow keep focused on the deadly Herarra with wide-open eyes in the back of his head.
Sharply observed, entertainingly set down: Egleton has served his time in those bureaucratic trenches, and does it ever show.