Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Book Review: Moscow Sting, by Alex Dryden (2010)

A pedestrian attempt at a spy vs. spy novel, Moscow Sting never gains traction and quickly loses the big picture while getting tangled in details.

A former British MI6 agent named Finn has been killed by the Russians. Finn and his wife, former KGB agent Anna, had been the main contacts with Mikhail, a senior level Russian traitor within Putin's inner circle. Now Anna's on the run, the MI6 want revenge for the death of Finn, the CIA want to find Anna to get to Mikhail, and the KGB want to get to Anna to make sure that no one gets to Mikhail.

Logan, a disgraced former CIA agent, tracks Anna down in France, and sells her whereabouts to the quickest bidder, who proves to be Burt, another former CIA agent now running his own large and successful private spy and security agency. Burt needs to extract information about Mikhail from Anna, while she tries to angle for her freedom.

Moscow Sting features a wild shoot-out between assorted Russian spooks in the heart of Arlington, leaving several dead and wounded. That spies careful enough to commit an untraceable assassination using sophisticated poisons earlier in the novel resort to the gunfight at the Arlington Corral is a good summary of author Alex Dryden's desperation to find any sort of energy to his otherwise listless story.

Elsewhere, tens of pages are invested in the story of Lars, an ace sniper carefully killing wealthy Russian businessmen. It spoils nothing to say that the story of Lars is an add-on that leads exactly nowhere, Dryden seemingly padding the skimpy book with a distracting sub-plot made of pure lard.

What is left is the story of Anna, which mainly consists of planning and holding endless meetings in restaurants and cafes, with everyone listening in on everyone else and all the spies speaking in the same unimaginative style. Dryden is able to provide splashy colour to just the one early character, a French intelligence buffoon. Otherwise, the Russians, Americans and British all carry on with the same grim seriousness that only fictional spies possess.

Meanwhile, the supposed core of the book, the valuable Russian agent Mikhail, slowly dissolves into a McGuffin, adding nothing to the story except as the abstract objective of all those meetings. Mikhail makes a hasty exit as soon as he is finally introduced.

Moscow Sting floats like an anvil and stings like a butterfly.

356 pages.
Published in hardcover by Harper Collins.

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