A subtle sociopolitical commentary wrapped in the carapace of an expertly plotted, nail-biting espionage thriller.
In another life, Gavin Hughes sold sensitive industrial machinery in Iran by seduction—dangling customers’ babies on his knee, oiling his arrivals and departures with just the right gift. But Hughes’s mistaken belief that a desire to possess what he sold was equated with friendship floated him outside the law. When confronted with the reality that he’d furthered Iran’s weapons of mass-destruction program, he did the honorable thing. Instead of going to jail, he went back to Iran, repeatedly, at great peril, and gathered information on the program’s single vulnerable element: his “friends.” Seymour (Dead Ground, 1999, etc.) is superb at examining the contractual nature of friendships, their conveniences and contingencies. British intelligence handled Gavin the same way as he handled his friends—by making him feel like a somebody. When he’d delivered the last tidbit of information, though, the service turned him into a new somebody: he becomes Frank Perry and, until a single slip-up, is completely off the map. His new life is contained in a house in a picturesque seaside village, includes a wife, Meryl, with her own unspoken past, her young son, and a place among the townsfolk. Now, however, Frank Perry is a hunted man, stalked by Iran’s most deadly and faceless assassin (who is even so, in Seymour’s hands, vividly drawn). Perry refuses to take on another new identity, insisting on his somebody-ness—thereby becoming “the principal,” a target. When the armor to protect him arrives, the village turns against the Perrys: their bubble of isolation from the depredations of the world is burst, and suddenly they’re alone.
Seymour’s prose is like his people—unsentimental, spare, tender when necessary—and from top to bottom, the story moves with elegant efficiency. The author’s rare gift is to make the monstrous human, and to give face to the faceless.