Saturday, February 25, 2006

Private Wars, by Greg Rucka

(hb; 2005)

From the inside flap:

“Tara Chace was once the most dangerous woman alive. And now that the international spy network thinks that she’s as good as dead, she’s even more dangerous than ever.

“Only one thing could coax Tara back into the game: a chance to vindicate herself. The torture and execution of Dina Malikov has set off a cut-throat grab for power in strategically crucial Uzbekistan. Tara’s job is to slip into the country and extract Dina’s pro-Western husband and their young son before they are murdered – by his ruthless sister.

“But there are a couple of wild cards in the deck, including a missing mobile weapons system that can bring down a commercial airliner, not to mention powerful political careers. Now, s she vanishes into hostile territory with a man who may or may not be what he seems, Tara is going to find that the war on terror is more terrifying than anyone knows. For in a battle where betrayal is a conventional weapon, loyalty is a weakness, and anyone – even a child – is a legitimate target: it’s every spy, every woman for herself.”

Review:

The second Queen & Country novel, a direct sequel to A Gentleman’s Game, is one of the best action-espionage novels I’ve read in a long time. Whereas A Gentleman’s Game was a set-up novel – filled with interdepartmental backstabbing and character histories – this is a welcome blast of literary violence, with well-rendered, complex characters: few of the characters are shown to be wholly innocent or malevolent (not even the reprehensible Ahtam Zahidov, who would make a worthy henchman to a James Bond villain). Balancing the brutality, rape included, is a tenderness that ultimately bookends this exciting, can’t-put-it-down actioner.

This tenderness stems from the fact that Tara becomes a mother, and therefore a more fully-realized character; Tom Wallace, her now-dead lover from A Gentleman’s Game, is the father of her daughter, Tasmin.

Tara takes refuge from her grief in Barnoldswick, England, in the home of Tom’s mother, Valerie. But when Paul Crocker, Tara’s former boss, asks her for help, Tara discovers she can’t refuse, despite her newfound maternal instincts.

Like the best action-espionage novels and films, Private Wars shows the consequences of the violence it depicts, emotional as well as physical. While Rucka is not as graphic as some writers (Jack Ketchum comes to mind), he doesn’t flinch from the harsh realities of the world he’s writing about.

Rucka provides enough backstory in Private Wars that one doesn’t need to read its predecessor, A Gentleman’s Game. However, to fully enjoy the often-unspoken nuances of the characters’ interactions, the international politics (and personal betrayals that accompany them), and the sense of what’s gone before, it might be recommended that one do so.

This is a must-read novel for those who like their literary kicks hard, fast and bloody.

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