I like Robert Harris’ historical novels, they are well researched, bring the characters to life and are an easy read. V2 is set at the end of WW2 as the SS step up the launches of V2 rockets at London in a last endeavour to turn the tide of the war.

Rudi Graf is a rocket scientist and engineer working at the missile launch site in occupied Holland. The narrative flashes back to his youth and his friendship with Wernher von Braun and their shared passion for rockets and space travel.

Kay Caton-Walsh is a WAAF officer posted to Belgium as part of desperate attempt to find the launch sites and destroy them by reverse calculating the path of the V2s as they launch and subsequently land in London.

While Graf is increasingly doubting the morality and sanity of his masters, the British realise that their operation in Belgium may be compromised.

V2 is not Harris’ best novel (my favourites are the Cicero trilogy) but if you like the minutiae of WW2 military stuff then you will enjoy this.


Total Blackout

Total Blackout by Alex Shaw is a page turner that grabs you in the first couple of pages.

Jack Tate is an MI6 agent and former SAS officer on vacation in Maine when a rogue Russian and Chinese taskforce triggers an electro-magnetic pulse device that wipes out all electrical and electronic equipment in the US (apparently this is also a side effect of a nuclear explosion). In the chaos that follows the leader of the Russian team is determined to settle several scores with those who he believes have insulted the Russian state and ultimately with Tate and his brother.

Total Blackout feels like it has been written to make into a Netflix type production and you can see further adventures for Tate and his brother. It’s not deep and it’s not that believable but it is fun and would make a good holiday read.


Agent Running in the Field

Le Carre is back and he is as good as ever. Agent Running in the Field is a classic Le Carre spy novel but set in 2019 with sharply observed comment on Trump, Brexit and our government.

Nat is an end of career spy who has returned to England after a mid level career overseas. Nat is given one last assignment, to manage a small group of defectors in a run down department in London. As often happens in a Le Carre plot there is a cross over between Nat’s personal life and the intelligence services.

This is brilliant, I couldn’t put it down. It twists and turns and surprises without ever seeming contrived. Made me want to go back and reread the whole Smiley series again.


The Sandpit

The Sandpit by Nicholas Shakespeare is a bit of a slow burner but well worth persevering with.

John Dyer, an ex journalist, has returned from Brazil to Oxford with his son and enrolled him in the rep school that he had attended nearly 50 years ago. Life is dull and predictable in the middle class Oxford academic and school community until an Iranian, Rustum Marvar, parent entrusts John with the results of his research. When Marvar and his son disappear, the mystery unfolds at pace as different intelligence services and murky business interests encircle John and his son trying to find the potentially world changing secret.

The Sandpit is elegant, well observed and quite readable but overall a little unsatisfying.


The House of Lamentations

The House of Lamentations is the 5th in Shona Maclean’s much praised Seeker series.

It’s 1658, Damian Seeker is living under cover in Bruges keeping tabs on the royalist followers of the exiled King Charles who are scheming to restore Charles to the thrown. Meanwhile in London the Protector, Cromwell, is in the last days of his life and all around him are preparing for a power shift and a new leader.

The royalists have discovered that there is a spy within their midst they have no idea who it is and send their own spy to spy on Seeker’s spy. Complicated? Yes but Maclean weaves a complex plot around these characters while providing a fascinating and detailed understanding of life in 17th century Bruges and the politics of England and Europe.

The House of Lamentations is historical fiction at it’s very best. The publisher says this is the last in the series. I hope not!


Power Play

Power Play by Tony Kent is a very readable thriller.

An aircraft is blown up halfway across the Atlantic, one of the passengers is the leading candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. The baggage handler, a Syrian refugee, who placed the bomb confesses but rapidly questions arise as to whether he is a terrorist or a stooge.

It soon becomes evident that forces close to the current President are trying to shut down the legal team defending the baggage handler and the intelligence agency that starts to investigate.

This a fast paced but really rather preposterous page turner. At the end my reaction was – “really?”. I can imagine this being script fodder for the production machines of Amazon or Netflix but as a read it leaves quite a bit to be desired.