As one might guess from the series title, the Queen & Country books concern Great Britain, or, more specifically, Tara Chace, designated as Minder One within a British clandestine ops agency known as The Section. Rucka is a smart writer who is able to build and control suspense slowly but surely, manipulating a reader’s attention, pulse and blood pressure to maximum effect and then making the whole work go “pop” all at once.
So it is that THE LAST RUN, the third installment in the series, starts slowly with Chace making the decision to step down from her Minder One position and take a desk job. She tenders her resignation, and the wheels that process it begin to turn, though slowly and reluctantly. The truth is that there is no one to replace her. This is ironic, given that it has demonstrated time and again in the field that Chace has been regarded as expendable by The Section, though regrettably so. Events unfolding in Iran, however, put Chace’s plans for a quieter life on hold.
VEVAK, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, has discovered that Hossein Khamenei, a relative of a very important figure in the Iranian government, has a history as a British spy, one hidden for so long that he has practically been forgotten. Youness Shirazi, the Director of Counterintelligence for VEVAK, launches a bold and dangerous plan to draw Chace to Iran for the stated purpose of crippling British intelligence in Iran once and for all. Shirazi arranges for a message to be sent through clandestine channels, indicating that Khamenei is ready to defect to Great Britain. The theory is that Khamenei is such a prize, both due to his relationship with the government figure and what he knows, that The Section will have no choice but to send their top operative to Iran in order to handle the defection. Shirazi, as it turns out, is entirely correct. Chace’s retirement from field service is delayed so that she might undertake one final, dangerous mission: the extrication of Khamenei from Iran.
The events heretofore noted are recounted in what amounts to the first half of the book, beginning with Chace’s decision to step down and concluding with her taking possession of Khamenei in Iran. It is when she attempts to leave that unshirted hell breaks loose, which takes up the entire second half. Everything that can possibly go wrong does, so that Chace is left mortally wounded in an enemy country with everyone looking for her and nowhere to turn. The Section has no way of extricating Chace, so the best to which she can look forward is capture and trial (and execution, if she’s not exchanged for another prisoner). If she lives, that is. And that proposition is extremely doubtful.
Rucka goes beyond the top of his game in THE LAST RUN, a riveting, pulse-pounding novel of espionage that also manages to be a why-done-it. If Rucka has a fault, it’s only that he doesn’t write novels frequently enough. The results, however, are always worth the wait, and that is doubly true of this one.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 12, 2011