Charles McCarry meets the kind of Goldilocks/middlebrow standard I look for in spy novels: not too complex, not too simple, not too jingoistic, not too cynical. Juuuuust right.
This is the third I’ve read of his Paul Christopher series and like the last two, the plot gripped me. It’s a deep plot but not so convoluted that it loses the reader. Every scene has a purpose; there are few red herrings. It hurtles its way towards its sad, surprising end, tying in perfectly with the title of the novel.
The characters are great too. I like McCarry’s say-little, stay-focused protagonist and how he navigates the complex world of Cold War espionage. James Bond he is not, but it is a realistic, honest look at how field agents actually do the work.
Yet it’s McCarry’s attitude towards nationalism and sex that really stand out to me. McCarry is not an “America, hell yeah!” kind of writer. He doesn’t glorify his come country, nor does he spend his time knocking it like many espionage works do. Spying is just what Paul Christopher does and he does it well and this happens to be his team. Stay in the game long enough, it’ll knock the ideology out of the most hardened zealot. Yet Christopher never loses sight of his mission.
And while I don’t want to spoil much regarding sex, the book breaks from conventional male-dominant norms in spy novels in a healthy way. I don’t want to give McCarry “woke points” but the book is open-minded for its time and might have rubbed the right people the wrong way. I appreciated that as someone who just read Goldfinger a few weeks ago and is still angry about the “man screws lesbian straight” subplot.
If you are looking for an entertaining, engaging spy series set in the Cold War, you couldn’t do much better than this.