You all know how much I adore spy thrillers, don’t you? Whether on the page or screen, the twisty double or triple-bluffing, the danger, the tradecraft, the rivalry between secret government agencies, the mind games and living on your wits that are the life of the secret agent combine to tick all the thriller boxes for me. Even more so, when it’s London rules, set in our capital city and involving our spooks vs. the Russians.
Emma Makepeace is a new agent, having done a short stint in Army intelligence, on her release she is snapped up by Charles Ripley, who runs a dark ops group outside of MI5 or MI6’s fiefdom, and has been put through months and months of rigorous training including tradecraft and simulations in the field. She’s ready. Disappointing then, that her first job is as deep cover in an environmental activist group, but she’s shortly to experience a night like no other.
Defected Russian scientists have been dying, murdered to send a message that the Russians never forget, and they’re coming for Elena Primalov who’d been a top nuclear scientist. Elena and her husband have been taken to safety, but her son Mikhail, now Michael, a paediatric oncologist has refused all attempts to persuade him to join them. Ripley knows the Russians will come for him next, and Emma is assigned to bring him in.
Michael has a known morning routine, beginning with a run in a Hackney park. The next morning, Emma is there to run with him, as are two Russians – obvious to her by their knowing looks and effortless running. She stages going over on her ankle knowing that Michael will stop to see if she is OK – and the Russians are forced to run on this time. Once she tells him she’s there to take him in, he refuses once again and runs off to work at the hospital. She’ll have to follow him and keep him safe. It’s not until she foils another attack by the Russians on him later that he realises the truth of the situation. She rings in to get collected, but can’t reach Ripley – only his adjutant – who tells her no help is available. Something is very wrong…
Luckily she and Ripley have a dead letter drop location set up, and they head off there to find Ripley’s message which tells her to take him MI6 not the agency, to ‘move fast, stay dark’. She has to get from north London to across the river, asap, avoiding cameras – having to assume the Russians have hacked into London’s CCTV systems. They are on the run – and the Russians won’t be far behind. Thus begins a cat and mouse chase as they zigzag south towards the river. It’s night-time now and later they’ll stick out like a sore thumb. They have nine miles to run, and how will they get across the river? Emma and Michael will need all their energy reserves, strength and wits to outrun the Russians.
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I picked up this novel the other day when I went to bed to read for a while – it was around 10.30pm. I finally put the book down a good while after the late night shipping forecast on Radio 4 at about 1.30am having devoured all 383 pages. I am on half term, so didn’t have to get up the next morning, but it is rare to be able to stay awake reading for so long!
Ava Glass worked at the Home Office in counter-terrorism, and encountered enough spies in her high security clearance job to become fascinated by their art. I loved the way that The Chase combined good old-fashioned tradecraft with the very modern concerns of it being near impossible to evade cameras in London. The traditional trope of the agent stuck out in the field on their own trying to bring someone in is given a zeitgeisty take that works brilliantly.
Emma Makepeace is a great lead character, she has an interesting heritage herself and of course that’s not her real name! There’s a hint of Bond’s Miss Moneypenny (later Eve) about it, but I was also reminded of the ITV cop series Dempsey and Makepeace from the mid-1980s, the glamorous Makepeace, played by Glynis Barber, has an aristocrat spook father. Whereas Emma’s boss, Charles Ripley, is a maverick spymaster very much in the mould of Spooks‘ Harry Pearce (how I miss that series).
This novel certainly does have pace and engaged me from the off with the thrills and spills of the chase and great characters. The good news is that a second outing for Emma Makepeace is coming later this summer, and I will be looking out for it. I loved it, but beware – if you read it too, once started you won’t want to put this book down!
Source: Review Copy – Thank you. Penguin paperback, 383 pages (plus teaser of vol 2). BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)