A riveting espionage tale set during the Cold War.
As a longtime diplomat and retired ambassador, Graham (Unending Crisis: National Security Policy after 9/11, 2012, etc.) is well-suited to write such a thriller. For almost 30 years he was also involved with international arms control and nonproliferation negotiations, and he’s written six books on international security. So he certainly has the experiences upon which to build the adventures of Sapphire, a fictitious CIA spy working from the mid-1950s to early 1960s. Sapphire—real name Linda Blaine—is a recent college graduate with a knack for foreign languages and strategy. She gets recruited into the family business; her academic father, Harold, was covertly a longtime agency asset. Early on, she speaks to him about her decision: “It was quite exciting, and I am myself surprised to be truly thrilled at the prospect of working at the Agency. I hope that I can do well.” Linda starts out with a solo mission to Russia and later takes on assignments with her husband, Joe Barthelmy, to Hungary and the Middle East. Joe supports his wife’s exotic lifestyle: as they flee Hungary, Linda says, “I hope you have enjoyed your honeymoon in scenic Hungary, Mr. Barthelmy.” Joe replies, “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, Mrs. Barthelmy.” After a near miss in the Middle East, Linda semiretires, and they start a family. Still, her nation comes calling one more time, and new parents Linda and Joe take on another mission, this time in Iran. But Linda is conflicted: “I just don’t think that I can continue. I am too worried about the children and I miss them too much.” As in this example, dialogue is often stilted, which can prove distracting. Nevertheless, Graham successfully invents believable scenarios, adeptly weaving in characters both real and fictitious. Overall, the novel’s nonstop action outpaces its limited flaws.
An enjoyable, well-developed addition to Cold War espionage thrillers.