My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Say goodbye to your wife or husband, boy or girlfriend. Say farewell to your friends and family. Ring in sick to work. No, not because it’s the late ’60’s and you’re defecting to the Soviet Union…it’s because for The Moscow Option’s main character Paul Dark, it is the late ’60’s and he has defected to the Soviet Union and once you start reading, you won’t want to stop.
An old spy deserting to the Soviet Union in the late ’60’s? Not another one, you say, but wait – Paul Dark was once one of Britain’s brightest spy stars. Head of the British Secret Service no less. But he has defected, it is October 1969 and Moscow’s most high-profile traitor finds himself in one of their deepest dungeons. Helping the KGB ‘with their enquiries’ you could say. Suddenly, he is brought in from the cold and up to central Moscow…then down under again to a secret bunker. Where he finds all the regimes leading lights – Brezhnev, Andropov, etc, on a (nuclear) war-footing and wanting answers from Dark. The West has attacked one of the Soviet’s forward bases with chemical weapons and also sent a fleet of B52 bombers hurtling towards the eastern Soviet borders and the leaders want to know what the West’s response to their retaliatory attack might be and how they counter it. All fairly straightforward. Until Dark realises that not only do they think they can survive a retaliatory strike, but that they’re about to make a decision based on a mistake. Or is it a mistake? And, which side is telling the truth? And what about the Americans? (see what I did there? Well, you will if you read the book).
Dark has to make the Soviets realise their mistake before it is too late and they launch a Nuclear attack. And he has 12 hours to do it. By which time the Soviets will launch their own strike to retaliate for the strike they think is on its way. If he is to bring the world back from the brink of an extinction, he has to escape from Brezhnev’s bunker, cross Russia and head up to the Baltic between Finland and Sweden, where he knows he’ll find the answers. Because he was there in 1945. What he doesn’t know is, he’ll also find answers to questions about his own past, he didn’t know needed answers. What Dark finds out, casts new light on just about everything he has done and thought he was sure about – over the past 25 years.
To be fair, I thought the last third could be tightened up a little, when it does run a little out of steam while the time constraints are pushed to the background as it were. But that’s asking to eat the cake as well. For someone like me, old enough to remember Brezhnev and Andropov and that period of the Cold War, spies and spy stories, The Moscow Option is a tense and satisfyingly spy-thriller. A successful blend of John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum, I thought. A modern thriller set in the genre’s hey-day – when we spied on them and they knew that we knew that we knew that they knew. And, if you follow Jeremy on Twitter, which I can also recommend, you might just know it is partly set where he now lives. Moscow, or those Baltic islands? That you’ll have to read the book to find out.
I think you could, possibly, read this without having read the first two (Free Agent and Song of Treason). But I’m not going to recommend it. You need to have things in their proper place to get the most from the several revelations the book contains. And if you are left wanting more at the end – good news! On Jeremy’s Facebook page, he announced recently that there will be a fourth Paul Dark novel as soon as he’s bought another biro and a new exercise book.