A columnist enters Canadian politics to thwart corruption and catches the unwelcome attention of a network of Russian sleeper agents in this thriller.
Victoria Hamilton’s exposé on “property-tax unrest” in 1977 Whitecourt, Alberta, is sure to focus on town manager Warren Sparks, long suspected as a cheat. But her editor, Bruce White, suggests something drastic: Victoria should run for town council to get access to Sparks’ office. Not only does the former librarian win a seat, she finds enough dirt on the thieving politician to result in his arrest. The press takes notice, but so unfortunately does Spider, a Russian who’s directed sleeper agents in Canada for 30 years. Spider has activated Cat’s Paw, a plan to use a female prime minister as a puppet, and the popular Victoria seems an ideal candidate. A political assassination courtesy of the Russians opens another seat for Victoria, who ultimately becomes Alberta’s deputy minister of education. Meanwhile, international agencies, collectively called “Shadow,” have an inkling of what Cat’s Paw is. They tie a few unsolved murders to Victoria, rightly surmising that the Russians are hoping that she’ll be a prime minister easily manipulated. Thinking it’s safer for Victoria not to know the dubious plan, Shadow keeps her in the dark, with no choice but to await Spider’s next move. Despite detailing the presence of foreign spies, Todd-Beshore (Mountains and Shadows, 1982, etc.) tells much of the story within the political realm. This impresses the plot with a good amount of realism; Victoria winning an election is a process, not something that happens overnight. The protagonist is equally pragmatic, a woman who prefers the quieter life at home but earns sympathy by attacking her new job(s) with gusto. There’s not much in the way of suspense, especially with Victoria in no real danger: Shadow keeps her under constant surveillance and, at one point, places an agent covertly by her side. Still, the enigmatic Spider and sleeper agents in Parliament are ever present menaces, wanting to get their mitts on Victoria. And the resolution, like the rest of the novel, opts for authenticity over sensationalism.
Watching the protagonist brave government and the electoral process remains riveting even if it overshadows the bad guys.