1.22.2012

Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith

Agent 6
Agent 6
Agent 6 is the last book in a trilogy detailing the trails and travails of Leo Demidov, former MGB agent. I am sorry to report that it doesn't compare to the previous two books. Those first books were marvelous portraits of life in Soviet Russia. As you read, you felt at least a piece of the fear and paranoia of that time. But by the time we've rejoined Leo Demidov in 1965, everyone feels tired and disillusioned. There's a keen sense of how pointless it all is. Perhaps this was the author's point, that all the terror and suspicion were pointless. But after the high drama of the first two-thirds of the series, this book was kind of a let down.

The first part of the book shows Leo living as low profile an existence as possible with his wife, Raisa, and two adopted daughters. As Leo has slipped into obscurity, his wife has rise as a teacher. We find her arranging a joint American-Soviet concert in New York. Leo suspects something will go wrong, but this is dismissed as his old paranoia from his days working for the MGB. Raisa flies to New York with her girls and students. Everything seems normal until Elena, the younger of the two daughters, sneaks away to make contact with a former Soviet sympathizer. She convinces him to make a speech during the concert. It's clear she has no idea that she's just a small part of a larger conspiracy--until thing go wrong and not only is the sympathizer murdered, but so is her mother.

All this takes up the first third or so of the book. One would think that the rest of the book would see Leo ferociously pursuing the case, seeking justice (more likely retribution) for his wife. Instead, he is forced to accept the covered up version of events. Neither the Americans or the Soviets want anyone rocking the boat. And so Leo lays low, for seven years. In 1973, he makes a run for the Finnish border but is caught. An old friend protects him from the gulags or execution, but he ends up exiled to Kabul. If he stirs from that city, his daughters will be punished, too. So Leo stays put, comforted by an opium habit.

When we see Leo next, it's 1980 and the Soviets have invaded Afghanistan. Leo is training new secret police for the pro-Soviet government, but it's readily apparent that the Soviets are not going to win. There are not nearly enough Communists in the country for it to succeed. Not only that, but the resistance is too well entrenched, to well supported. Above all, they know how to fight on their own terrain and the Soviets have no clue how to deal with them. Things do get exciting during this section of the book. How could they not? But you have to wonder, as the reader, what about Raisa?

***SPOILERS BEGIN***

Smith does eventually get back to Raisa, after Leo manages to finagle a defection to the United States. From here the book slides into its long conclusion. Leo uses his access to the FBI archives (they let him in to try and clear up some mysteries to the past) and a friend who serves as an interpreter to find out what happened the night his wife died. He finally locates the mysterious Agent 6 (who doesn't deserve to have a book named after him as he doesn't feature much in the story). Agent 6, a sinister FBI agent from the first part of the book, reveals that Raisa died as a result of a stupid attempt to get a photograph to be used in propaganda. The wife of the murdered sympathizer arrived at the police station were Raisa and her daughter were being held in order to kill the FBI agent that she blamed for hounding her husband into poverty. Raisa was hit by a stray bullet. The FBI agent delayed calling the ambulance to preserve the cover up story, allowing her to die.

And that's it. Raisa died because she was a convenient scapegoat. There was no great conspiracy; it was just bad luck. Leo torments himself for more than a decade because of a minor, pointless, stupid, little plot.

You see why I'm disappointed with the way this book turned out?

***SPOILERS END***

I can recommend the first two books in this series with no problems. They're not just good mysteries, but they are great historical fiction. I'd only recommend this book for fans who can't abide unsatisfied curiosity.

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