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When his lover and fellow spy Joanna Lake disappears in Kazakhstan, free-floating operative Elliot Kane slips away from his MI6 bosses to go after her, unaware of new dangers in the post-Soviet republic.

Kane hasn't seen Joanna in six months when he receives a coded warning from her. She had been working on psy-ops in an ultrasecret intelligence division in England but was eased out for troubling reasons. She was last seen in the Kazakhstan city of Astana, where she was said to be active as a human rights journalist under the name Vanessa McDonald. A man of many aliases, Kane slips into several of them in the process of collecting information from intelligence sources and corporate and government connections. At the core of the story is the coldblooded campaign for control of Kazakhstan's vast quantity of natural oil. Another battle is being fought between Kazakh nationalists and citizens under the sway of a sophisticated Russian disinformation campaign. Harris, acclaimed for detective thrillers including The Hollow Man (2011) and The House of Fame (2016), makes a masterful entry into spy fiction. This may be the deepest a contemporary spy novel has penetrated the cold new world of dark web intelligence and cellphone surveillance and the intellectual as well as pragmatic life of a spook "who existed because of the things the government wasn't allowed to do." At the same time, the frozen landscape asserts itself in a profound way, never more than when Kane is speeding across the salt flats on his way to the worst possible dead end. There's a lot to absorb in this book of many names and associations, but the reader's commitment is amply rewarded.

An absorbing, superbly written novel likely to stand as one of the best spy novels of the year.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-358-20665-1
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2020