Note: This book is also published under the title HOME RUN.
Author Gerald Seymour's fictional world encompasses the moral, practical, and political grey zones of the conflicts being fought at the world's grittier edges. THE RUNNING TARGET is a masterpiece of his writing.
As the book begins, a young Iranian woman, Juliette Eshraq, is publicly hanged to death on a crane in downtown Tabriz by the revolutionary government that had previously overthrown the Shah and executed the girl's father and uncle. The plot then skips forward several years, and Juliette's younger brother, Charlie, who'd escaped to California with his American mother, is now of age and on a mission of vengeance in the Old Country to kill those who murdered the rest of his family. Charlie is secretly run by a senior executive of MI-6, Mattie Furniss, Head of the Iran Desk at Century House, friend of the Eshraq family from his time as Station Officer in Tehran during the Shah's rule, and Charlie's mentor. After carrying out three assassinations, Charlie must now return to Britain to get the expensive, advanced, weaponry needed to finish the job. As Charlie tells Mattie, money is no problem.
In the meantime, Lucy Barnes, teenage daughter of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Defense, dies of a heroin overdose in a squalid London flat. In his rage and grief, the Secretary prevails on his friend and government colleague, the Home Secretary, to flog the drug enforcement unit of Customs and Excise to exert maximum effort to find the pusher, distributor, and source. In the course of investigation, it's learned that the heroin is from Iran and brought into England by a man known only as Charlie Persia.
As the final piece in the plot's set-up, Furniss is ordered by MI-6's Director General to Iran's periphery to meet with his agents and improve the quality of information coming across. Mattie is code-named "Dolphin". But, because of a leak in Britain's Bahrain Embassy, Iran's counter-intelligence unit knows Dolphin is coming, and plans accordingly.
A major component of THE RUNNING TARGET is a conflict between two agencies of Her Majesty's government in which dedicated and well-meaning civil servants are ground up in the cogs of political maneuvering, and the ostensible "bad guy" squeezes through the crack. The battle on the home front makes almost irrelevant the machinations and brutality of Iranian counter-intelligence, though, by the end of the book, the reader is left to wonder which side administered the greater damage to our hero, the servants of the Mullahs or those of the Queen.
THE RUNNING TARGET is one of the most complex and deliciously constructed of Seymour's many thrillers that I've read to date. Indeed, the reader is thrown a red herring at the beginning as to the identity of the storyline's chief protagonist. In any case, Seymour's forte is blurring the lines between the Good and the Evil; the former doesn't always win, nor does the latter always lose, to the satisfaction of Justice. The victory is usually pyrrhic. The plot resembles real life, and, in that regard, is eminently satisfying.