A former CIA agent with dementia unwittingly becomes a liability and/or a target for several agencies in Schmidt’s (The Boy and the Dolphin, 2016) thriller.
Though it’s been three years since Stewart Masterson retired, he has Hank Brogan, deputy director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Services, worried. Brogan fears that Alzheimer’s will lead the 72-year-old, once a station chief in Brussels, to expose dangerous info, even if inadvertently. Getting help from the FBI and National Security Agency, the CIA finagles guardianship away from Masterson’s schoolteacher daughter, Karen Kenny, and puts the man in a Florida facility of the CIA’s choosing to monitor his routine. All the same, Masterson feels he’d be better off in Maryland with his daughter and grandsons, a suggestion Karen had made earlier. He walks away from the facility, picks up late wife Helen’s ashes from the mausoleum, and starts his trek north. The journey is not without its snags, from stealing a car for transportation to assaulting an aggressive police officer who pulls him over. But Masterson also has U.S. agencies in pursuit. And he’s unaware that other countries, including Russia, may want to ensnare a vulnerable former CIA agent, a development that could also endanger his daughter and her family. Schmidt’s novel is surprisingly buoyant. It stars a likable spy who, notwithstanding the aforementioned roadside incident, typically avoids confrontation. Though there’s a romantic interest in ex-prostitute Pepper, Masterson loves Helen deeply, finding solace in speaking to her urn. Sadly, despite a few memories revealed to readers, details on Helen are minimal. Conversely, Schmidt too often centers on mundane action, like buying khakis at Walmart or activating a prepaid phone. Suspense, however, is abundant with Masterson racing against the clock toward a thrilling finale.
A spy both formidable and endearing animates this original espionage tale.