A high-profile Russian defects to the Brits (or not) in Higgins’s latest thriller (Rough Justice, 2008, etc.).
Alexander Kurbsky is an ex-paratrooper, a battle-scarred veteran of Russia’s brutal wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. He’s also a bestselling, critically acclaimed novelist. In New York, as guest of honor at a United Nations literary function, he’s introduced to the lovely Lady Monica Starling, double-billed in her own right. A glamorous member of the British aristocracy, she is, clandestinely, a member in good standing of “the Prime Minister’s private army,” that tiny but fearsome band of counterterrorists responsible, again and again, for the salvation of Western civilization. Kurbsky and Lady Monica get on famously, a meeting that ends with the Russian confessing an itch to cross over. Excited by the prospect of a big-time catch, Lady Monica immediately contacts master spy Sean Dillon, newly her lover, and an arrangement is made for an ersatz kidnapping. Meanwhile, Kurbsky is finalizing a different kind of arrangement, this one with the Russian prime minister. In the lionized soldier/novelist, Putin thinks he has the perfect mole who, reluctant or not, will make the required moves in the motherland’s nonstop geopolitical chess game with the West. His reasoning seems flawless. Languishing in an infamous Siberian prison is Kurbsky’s beloved sister, and as long as he keeps her there, Putin is certain he can count on the necessary leverage. But life and spy-craft are full of little surprises, and one never knows how an epiphany at just the right time will change the rules of the game.
A potboiler, sure, but with his swashbuckling nonhero, Higgins demonstrates anew that an engaging character can fan sparks no matter how retro the formula.