Agent 6 (Child 44 Trilogy 3) Paperback – 19 Jan 2012
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Tom Rob Smith’s debut novel, Child 44, was a considerable success (the youthful Smith began to collect book award nominations by the bushel, before finally bagging the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for 2008). That book’s successor, The Secret Speech, featured the second appearance of the beleaguered former MGB officer Leo Dormidov. Hopes were high for the final volume in the trilogy – and here is Agent 6, the final outing for Leo. So does it satisfactorily conclude the sequence?
In the last book, the time was 1956; Stalin had died, and it was the time of Nikita Khrushchev’s revisionist pronouncements (such as the ‘secret speech’ of the title, in which the Stalinist regime was – for the first time – roundly denounced). Leo Dormidov, his wife Raisa and their daughters are in mortal danger again, because of the new public view of the police as criminals; Leo’s efforts to save his family plunged him into situations of fear and tension. Both books were novel of striking authority (despite the controversial stylistic notion of putting all speech in italics, so that everything appeared over-emphasised). Agent 6, the third and final outing for the conflicted former MGB officer, brings the trilogy of novels to a resounding climax. Leo’s new civilian life with his wife Raisa and his family has acquired equilibrium, but the USSR and the US are still bitter enemies. A visit to the states by Leo on a diplomatic mission has a tragic outcome, and Leo loses everything. Only the grim plains of Afghanistan offer him a way back – or death. Tom Rob Smith has utilised cinematic technique here (not to mention upping the number of suspenseful set pieces), and some will prefer the more complex character building of the first book (still the finest in the sequence), but for most readers this final Leo Dormidov novel will push all the requisite buttons. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
`In this final part of the trilogy (equally good as a stand-alone book), which began with much acclaimed Child 44, author Tom Rob Smith shows he has lost none of his talent for producing a perfectly paced thriller' --Books of the Year, Country & Town HouseSee all Product description
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Spread over 30 years, the story starts in 1950 Moscow with an introduction (or re-introduction) to Soviet agent Leo Demidov. He is given a mission to oversee the visit of American singer and Communist sympathiser Jesse Austin - which largely involves ensuring he only sees the aspects of Soviet society which the state are keen to reveal. This introduces the key characters before the story jumps forward to 1965, past the time in which Child 44 and The Secret Speech were set, where Leo has now retired from the secret police and is working as a factory manager. As part of a cultural exchange, Leo's family are given the opportunity to visit New York - a trip which turns to disaster.
This happens half way through the book and sets the scene for what could have been a thrilling investigation - similar to Child 44 but with the added intrigue and complexity of Cold War relations. Except that isn't what happens - instead the story moves to 1980 Afghanistan for a side story which, although interesting in its own right, drags on and adds little to the plot except for trying to set up the sense of an epic revenge story.
When circumstances finally conspire, in typically unlikely circumstances, for the revenge story to develop, it has been delayed so much by the narrative in Afghanistan that it is anti-climactic both for the characters and for the reader who learns little more about the events of 16 years before than what the author told us at the time.
Agent 6 is a slower read than the previous two books and more ponderous - although this isn't completely a bad thing as the breakneck pace of The Secret Speech made it painfully implausible at times and prevented it from developing characters. This novel takes longer to heat up, simmers for a long time and does not come close to boiling until the final 100 pages or so - by which time I'd lost a lot of interest.
I did enjoy it - the first half more than the second - but felt the author missed a lot of great opportunities. In moving the plot away from Russia, he creates the opportunity to delve into the American Cold War psyche and reveal the same kind of insights about the inner workings of the American government and FBI that he makes about the Russian government and KGB in the first two novels. When he does this, it makes for the most interesting part of the book, but in the end he barely scratches the surface before the story moves on elsewhere.
Similarly in Afghanistan, he builds an interesting plot around the Soviet invasion which again hints at more to come - but this aspect of the book never develops as meaningfully as it might because the Afghan episode is never much more than a side story that leads (very slowly) towards the novel's inevitable conclusion.
A further missed opportunity is some of the characters he expertly creates but then discards without giving them the attention they deserve. I'm thinking particularly of Yates, a vile and sociopathic FBI agent who is central to the New York plot, and a character I wanted the author to explore further, but who then disappears from the plot. Similar could be said of Mikael Ivanov and Captain Vashchenko.
In summary, this is a decent conclusion to the trilogy - I think the author's decision to move the plot away from Russia rather than delivering another Moscow based thriller was a clever move and his insights into both the Cold War and the Afghan invasion are interesting, although not explored deeply enough, and there are some strong characters. If anything, I think the author tries to do too much and ends up spreading the book too thinly, which leads to an unsatisfactory second half. I look forward to seeing what Tom Rob Smith does next, although my concern is that he will fail to reach the heights of Child 44, which is certainly the most rounded, satisfying and intelligent read of this trilogy.
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