Sunday, May 03, 2015

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

(hb; 2012: third novel in the Agent Leo Demidov trilogy)

From the  inside flap:

"Leo Demidov is no longer a member of Moscow's secret police. But when his wife, Raisa, and daughters Zoya and Elena are invited on a 'Peace Tour' to New York City, he is immediately suspicious.

"Forbidden to travel with his family and trapped on the other side of the world, Leo watches helplessly as event in New York unfold and those closest to his heart are pulled into a web of political conspiracy and betrayal - one that will end in tragedy.

"In the horrible aftermath, Leo demands only one thing: to investigate the killer who destroyed his family. His request is summarily denied. Crippled by grief and haunted by the need to find out exactly what happened on that night in New York, Leo takes matters into his own hands. It is a quest that will span decades, and take Leo around the world -- from Moscow, to the mountains of Soviet-controlled Afghanistan, to the backstreets of New York -- in pursuit of the man who knows the truth: Agent 6."


Agent 6 is, with its multi-decade span and character development, a flirting-with-Sergio-Leone-esque-epic* read. It is imbued with the style and tone of its source novel Child 44 (more drama work than actioner), showing how tragedy, as well as others' hatred and manipulative patriotism, lead Leo down a path that results in him winding up in the hell trap that is Afghanistan (circa 1980), where the Russian government is mired in an ill-advised conflict with a country that has consistently defeated other would-be invaders: Alexander the Great (in 330 BC), the Mongols (in 1219), the British (1839, 1878 and 1919).

Leo knows if he tries to escape his militaristic-prison post that his surviving family members will be arrested, tortured and possibly killed. However, the mysterious circumstances of a close-to-the-heart murder haunt his every waking moment -- a mystery that he must solve, or die trying.

Agent 6 is a hard-to-put down, timely and entertaining (in a Russian-harsh way) story, one that lives up to the excellence of its predecessor novels, while expanding on the historical and time-scale structures of those novels. Its ending, like the lives and outlooks of many of its Russian and American characters, is dark, but sports a tender, all-is-not-lost effect. This is worth owning, like Child 44 and The Secret Speech.

(*particularly Leone's 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America)

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