Charles McCarry is considered by many to be the master of American spy fiction, brilliantly staking his claim with such international bestsellers as The Tears of Autumn and The Miernik Dossier. A spy writer’s spy writer, he has been lauded extravagantly by the critics and his peers. George V. Higgins wrote “Charles McCarry is the Lord's best combination of spellbinding storyteller and silken prose writer.†? “Intelligent and enthralling,†? said Eric Ambler, and Jeffrey Archer praised writing that “makes one put the book down and gasp.†? In his magnificent new novel, with rights sold in six countries before publication, McCarry returns to the world of his legendary character, Paul Christopher, the crack intelligence agent who is as skilled at choosing a fine wine as he is at tradecraft, at once elegant and dangerous, sophisticated and rough-and-ready. As the novel begins, Paul Christopher, now an aging but remarkably fit 70ish, is dining at home with his cousin Horace, also an ex-agent. Dinner is delicious and uneventful. A day later, Paul has vanished. The months pass, Paul’s ashes are delivered by a Chinese official to the American consulate in Beijing and a memorial service is held in Washington. But Horace is not convinced that Paul is dead and, enlisting the support of four other retired colleagues—a sort of all-star backfield of the old Outfit—Horace gets the “Old Boys†? back in the game to find Paul Christopher. Harassed by American intelligence, hunted by terrorists, Horace Christopher and the Old Boys travel the globe, from Xinjiang to Brazil, from Rome to Tel Aviv, Budapest to Moscow, in search of Paul and the unspeakably dangerous truth.
McCarry is another ace spy novelist from the past to whom Overlook's Peter Mayer is giving a new lease on life (as with Robert Littell's The Company two years ago). Both of them are real pros, with McCarry having a more lapidary style and a rather more aristocratic turn of mind. His "old boys," former CIA men who come out of retirement to help one of their former colleagues, Horace Hubbard, find his lost cousin, Paul Christopher, are a classy group, each with a well-defined area of expertise. Christopher, an elderly agent himself (he starred in some of McCarry's earlier books, most notably in The Tears of Autumn), has disappeared, and apparently died, in a remote area of China. His ashes are sent back to the U.S. by the Chinese, and a memorial service is held. But Horace cannot believe he is dead, and nor can Paul's daughter, Zarah. As they set out on Christopher's trail, they find it leads to his remarkable mother, Lori, who was probably involved in the assassination of Nazi kingpin Heydrich in WWII and kept as a legacy of that monster a priceless scroll in his possession depicting the death of Christ from a Roman agent's viewpoint. The plot is almost indescribable, involving a Muslim terrorist who wants the scroll and who plans to blow up much of the West with a cache of miniature Soviet nuclear bombs; a Chinese forced-labor camp; and sundry ex-Nazis, ex-KGB men and double-crossers galore. It's a great tribute to McCarry's skill that he manages to keep all his colored balls in the air and carry the reader willingly with him. But the kitchen-sink approach to the plot increasingly strains credibility as the story zips along, and the tension between his all-too-believable "old boys" and the comic-book action is never satisfactorily resolved.