As the Cold War appeared to fade into history, so did some of the best spy thriller authors of the last century. After all, if we didn’t have Russian spies lurking on street corners and undercover double and triple agents ferreting out secrets, both theirs and ours, what was there to write about? The Cold War era was a period in history when we could identify a certain enemy and the good guys knew where to find the bad guys.
For those of us who waited with anticipation for the next le Carre or Ludlum, Jeffery Deaver, Ian Fleming, Martin Cruz Smith, Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follett and Daniel Silva, it was the only thing we missed about that era. Was peace at hand at last? Well, obviously not, as we are beginning to learn, but the threat of terrorism is as hard to define in literature as it is in reality.
Now, as tensions rise with the new leadership in Russia and North Korean stirrings, some favorite names are popping up again in spy thriller fiction. The West’s old nemeses are returning, and with them some more youthful of the spy thriller writers are sharpening their pencils --- or, most likely, recharging their laptops and coming out with new, page-turning thrillers ripped right from the headlines. THE ENGLISH GIRL is a top-notch, old-fashioned East-meets-West, cloak-and-dagger thriller from the old school, with a ripped-from-the-headlines theme.
"Someone once said that their favorite books are ones that entertain and inform at the same time. THE ENGLISH GIRL is one of those novels."
Gabriel Allon, the infamous Israeli undercover spy of many talents, is called back into action when the mistress of Great Britain’s Prime Minister is kidnapped while on vacation with friends on the isle of Corsica. The ransom is high: 10 million Euros in seven days, or not only does she die, her relationship with the Prime Minister will be exposed just as he is standing for reelection.
Allon, who has close ties with Downing Street, is asked to find the girl, rescue her from her kidnappers, pay the ransom, and bring her back safely. Above all, he must avoid any publicity. He is forced to engage every resource he has, which includes colleagues and former foes. He convinces Christopher Keller, a former MI5 agent who is presumed dead, to assist in ways that only Keller can accomplish. Keller is living under an alias and works as a hired hit man for Don Anton Orsati, who operates a professional murder-for-hire ring on Corsica, where the girl vanished. Keller, who was once hired to kill Allon, is the best man for this job, and they become wary partners to bring the girl back alive. After all, in the spy game, business is business.
The hunt takes Allon, Keller and Allon’s new wife, Chianr, from London to Paris, Corsica, Provence, and eventually to Moscow, for a thrilling climax that will keep you flipping pages to the very end.
There is a very serious note to the novel in the form of reality. The once-powerful Soviet Union, now fragmented by social upheaval, has only one card to play in international economics. Russia sits on a vast supply of oil and gas, which is their one source of economic recovery. We soon learn that the kidnapping is politically and economically motivated by the current Russian government, now run by the old guard of the KGB. This is fascinating stuff for any avid cloak-and-dagger reader --- and sobering to anyone interested in international affairs in real time.
Someone once said that their favorite books are ones that entertain and inform at the same time. THE ENGLISH GIRL is one of those novels. If world events continue to unfold as they have for the past few months, there should be plenty of grist for the mill in the super-spy genre to see a huge revival. Is that a good news/bad news scenario, or what?
Reviewed by Roz Shea on July 19, 2013