Richard Knox is back. A Loyal Traitor is the second outing for the British spy who first appeared in Tim Glister’s debut, Red Corona last year. Things have moved on, it’s 1965 and the 60s are starting to swing both technologically and culturally. Yet, the same old suspicions and rivalries remain between the Soviets and the West, and Knox is soon embroiled in a new deadly game. Pleasingly, he is joined by some familiar faces from Red Corona, including in-the-doghouse CIA officer Abey Bennett and old Russian adversary Major Rykov.
It’s 13 years now since Stalin died, but his presence hangs like a pall over everything in Moscow. Those who want reform constantly battle reactionary forces, while secretive outfits pull the strings from in the shadows. In a quiet street, an assassin demonstrates ruthless efficiency in murdering an entire family and even the baby doesn’t survive the slaughter. Rykov runs Line Z, a top secret department whose operations are so clandestine that not even the KGB are in the loop. However, he must watch his back because there are fears Line Z operations are endangering KGB assets abroad.
Richard Knox expects to be sent to Rhodesia at any moment to deal with the mounting crisis. However, MI5 director James Holland has other ideas and sends him to Canada to check on the activities of Sir Guy Northcott, who has spooked the Americans with his behaviour. There are rumours the textile magnate is flying young men from America to Canada in his private jet after which the men disappear. Depending on how sensitive the situation is, Knox has full authority to deal with it, which he does, returning to the UK to work on the new Anglo-Russian talks. The Russians are dangling a significant trade deal – too large to be ignored.
Meanwhile, Abey Bennett is on the US side of a prisoner exchange in the jungle on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The CIA are handing back a rival to Papa Doc Duvalier’s regime. The Tonton Macoute, Papa Doc’s secret police, have come to collect their man. The CIA get one of their own back but Abey knows what the fate of the swapped prisoner will be. Her boss, Jay Gibson, doesn’t take well to Abey trying to interfere with the handover and the dispute threatens to further hold up her career.
A way out for Abey and her boss appears a couple of days later when a spy hands himself over, claiming to be the Russian super-spy codenamed The Wolf. After the CIA have wrung him dry it’s Abey’s job to escort him to London. Her boss doesn’t realise that Abey knows who this man is. She contacts Richard Knox and when Knox realises who the supposed Wolf is he spirits him away before the official handover puts him in the hands of British interrogators.
This fast-paced espionage novel is an easy read, riffing on the Cold War thrillers of the 1960s. Glister’s love of Len Deighton shines through and he deals with the complex geopolitics of the 1960s with a light touch, gently providing the background for anyone unfamiliar with the era. The exposition makes for a less pacy start but it does build atmosphere. The paranoia and tensions span the military buildup in Vietnam, CIA shenanigans such as the MKUltra mind-control programme, Quebec independence, the power struggle in the USSR and the clash between the superpowers over their spheres of control. Not to mention the notion of a cuckoo in the nest…
This is a twisty spy tale that blends reality with fiction well. Knox, Abey Bennett and major Rykov are fun characters to be with. The Loyal Traitor combines the classic Cold War thriller with modern pacing and will appeal to readers of fast action thrillers as much as spy fans.
See our revisit to The Ipcress File, here, and watch for the ITV period spy drama based on the book which begins airing in January 2022.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars