Knoerle’s ace thriller, the third in the American Spy series, chronicles a noirish tough guy’s efforts to protect the world from the Red Menace, circa 1944.
Knoerle hits precisely the right note of humility and bravado when his protagonist, American Office of Strategic Services agent Hal Schroeder, declares in the novel’s prologue: “You wouldn’t believe how much crap you get credit for when you’re a hero.” What follows is a spare, stylish thriller peopled with wisecracking characters straight out of a Billy Wilder flick. Schroeder, a World War II vet marking time as a librarian in his native Cleveland, is tapped by real-life intelligence heavyweight Frank Wisner for another covert ops “suicide mission” in Eastern Europe. He accepts, of course—after which everything spirals blissfully out of control. Robert Altman–esque cameos of historical baddies, including FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and suave Cambridge Five double agents Guy Burgess and Kim Philby (who made careers of providing British secrets to their Soviet masters) add historical depth to the international political hijinks. However, Schroeder is the star here. The slightly goofy patriot is bright but not extravagantly so—much like author Laura Lippman’s nerdy Baltimore PI, Tess Monaghan, or Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks, whose dogged legwork and occasional epiphanies eventually solve the problems at hand. Agent Schroeder is no Sherlock, and that makes him all the more appealing and the novel more accessible. Beguiled readers will want to seek out Schroeder’s two prior adventures (A Pure Double Cross, 2008, and A Despicable Profession, 2010) as a stopgap until Knoerle hopefully blesses fans with a fourth book (à la numerically expansive author Robert Rankin) in this delightful trilogy.
A terrific Cold War thriller.