26 September 2023

The Devil’s Bargain

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Stella Rimington, Bloomsbury, $29.99.

Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 is probably now as well known for her series of espionage thrillers featuring English agent Liz Carlysle. The Devil’s Bargain is well within the spy genre but breaks out some new characters. It is currently a stand alone but is in some ways an origin story for a new character who could easily carry an ongoing series.

The book opens with the titular bargain. It is 1988, Harry Winslow is a junior Special Branch officer charged with making sure that foreign merchant seamen do not overstay in Britain. He is slowly led into a situation where he takes a bribe to allow one of them to stay. Fast forward to the present and Harry finds himself face to face with a local politician and realises it is the man he allowed to infiltrate the country all those years ago. At the same time, Manon Tyler, a young CIA operative has been transferred to London. Before she goes she attends a talk by a former KGB controller who lets slip that there may still be an “illegal” in the UK from a program he ran back in the Cold War. When that man, now known a Peter Robinson, becomes an MP the stakes suddenly get higher.

The Devil’s Bargain is Rimington working very much in the Le Carré mode. There are no car chases, or gun fights or other big set pieces. Rather, this is a book about spy craft. She explores the state of spying in Russia since the end of the Cold War, the relationship between the US and UK security services and the plight of a spy who has lost both his handler and, possibly, his purpose. There are no great revelations or last minute twists just competent operators (some more than others) with differing agendas feeling their way into a situation where none of them have the full picture. As long as readers don’t go in expecting explosions, literary or otherwise, they are likely to have a good time with this espionage procedural.

Over 750 more reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

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