In this impeccably researched spy novel, a radio personality hunts for the answer to one of the 20th century’s biggest unsolved mysteries.
Templeton Davis, a respected talk radio host, is a happy man. Between his lucrative day job and a side job writing popular books about politics and history (as well as the occasional spy novel), he keeps his active mind busy, even if his house is lonely in the wake of his wife’s death. Then one of the radio engineers digs up a mysterious leather satchel in his Virginia backyard and asks Temp to take a look at it. The satchel bears a set of initials that immediately pique Temp’s interest: H.A.R.P. Back in his personal library, Temp researches the mysterious initials and recalls that they belong to “one of the most famous spies in history,” Kim Philby, a British spy who was recruited at Cambridge University and ultimately defected to the Soviet Union. Temp examines the satchel’s contents and discovers not only a camera, tripod and journal, but a “one-time pad” used to decipher coded messages. Temp can’t understand the coded messages on his own, but fortuitously, he hosts a retired CIA employee on his show who explains how one-time pads work. Once Temp begins to break the code, he realizes that he’s on the verge of unlocking some of the Cold War’s greatest secrets, including the identity of a Soviet spy with the code name Bunny. But will Temp be able to uncover Bunny’s secrets before he’s killed by forces intent on keeping those secrets buried? Stokes skillfully interweaves scenes from the Cold War era with Temp’s present-day investigation, which takes him from New England to England and back again. Occasionally, the fast-paced adventures are sidetracked by too much description. When Temp and his production team travel to Stowe, Vt., so that Temp can make a presentation to the Ohio chapter of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, the author spends page after page describing Temp’s preparation for the speech, his time in the green room and the speech itself. This digression and others don’t advance the story, and they aren’t particularly revealing, either. Also, because the research is so thorough and the voice so authoritative, it’s especially jarring when errors arise, such as a character who has a “flare” for language.
This wide-ranging spy thriller needs a little tightening if it wants to become as powerful as a Soviet assassin.