In his brief career, author Mark Mills has quickly become one of the most respected and awarded fiction writers in the business. From his first novel, the Long Island-based AMAGANSETT, to his most recent effort that garnered him high praise, THE INFORMATION OFFICER, he has continued to build his fan base by creating intelligent thrillers that never cease to surprise.
"Written like a wild-fire hybrid of John le Carre and Ernest Hemingway, this highly literate thriller goes deep into the inner workings of the spy game circa 1935 and accurately depicts the fractured relationships between all the countries involved."
His latest book, HOUSE OF THE HUNTED, is no exception. The bulk of the storyline is set in Côte d’Azur, France, in 1935 --- a tumultuous time in world history as the rumblings of world war are preparing to boil over into full-blown conflagration. However, the most vital portion of the novel is set a bit earlier: 1919 Petrograd, Russia.
British intelligence operative Tom Nash is early in his career and immersed in an undercover job in the midst of the First World War. During his station in Russia, he falls for a woman named Irina Bibikov. The only hitch in their relationship is that she’s condemned to death and imprisoned. Tom --- in undercover guise as a Ukrainian man named Yegor Sidorenko --- does everything he can to aid Irina, including assassinating a top Russian officer named Zakharov. Unfortunately, he is not able to rescue Irina and is pulled out of the assignment before his own life is put in mortal danger.
The action now jumps ahead to Toulon, France, in 1935. Tom is attempting to leave his life as an intelligence officer behind him and become a published novelist. He is truly enjoying his time on the French Riviera and trying not to let the rumblings of an emerging world war dampen his spirits. He is surrounded by members of a lively seaside community who are far from dull and just eccentric enough to keep things consistently interesting.
Tom’s refuge into a normal life comes with a good deal of trepidation as he always must be on his guard that someone from his previous life will find him. Additionally, he is forever haunted by his former Russian lover who is constantly on his mind. He has friends, family, lovely beaches, and great food and drink with which to occupy his time. What could be better?
Alas, Tom’s idyllic new existence is turned upside down when an unknown assailant scales the terrace of his villa one night and attempts to kill him while he is sleeping. Old instincts kick in quickly, and Tom overcomes and puts down the threat caused by the unknown attacker. The would-be assassin turns out to be a young Italian, and Tom has no idea why he was being targeted. Even with the volatile situation brewing around them, Tom had never personally angered Mussolini or anyone in Italy --- so identifying who is behind the attempt on his life will be extremely difficult. He is also astute enough to recognize that this will not be the only attempt.
When Tom was working in deep cover, he was without peer and nearly impossible to kill. A man like that is likely to make many enemies. The trouble is that the Italian assassin had to have personal information about Tom in order to locate him and know when to attack --- information that had to have been provided by someone close to Tom. He suddenly becomes paranoid and suspicious of all around him. Having come from a world where double-dealing was commonplace, it is impossible to leave anyone above suspicion.
It is at this point where HOUSE OF THE HUNTED excels. Written like a wild-fire hybrid of John le Carre and Ernest Hemingway, this highly literate thriller goes deep into the inner workings of the spy game circa 1935 and accurately depicts the fractured relationships between all the countries involved. Fear not, Tom Nash is as resourceful as ever --- but even he may not be prepared for the revelations that hit him as the deeds of his past come right back to haunt him in his present. This is an excellent read for those who enjoy both espionage and literary thrillers.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 6, 2012