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RIDING THE HIGH WIRE AT THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR

Secret Lovers - Charles McCarry

This is the second Charles McCarry novel in the Paul Christopher series that I've read, and it had more twists and turns than any roller coaster I remember holding on to for dear life. It is 1960 and Christopher, a polyglot CIA agent working in Covert Action (CA), has met on a West Berlin street in the wee hours of the morning with Horst Bülow, one of his contacts. Bülow, an erstwhile Abwehr agent (i.e. the German military intelligence arm during the Nazi era), had travelled over from East Berlin with a manuscript that had been spirited out of the Soviet Union. It represents the magnum opus of a celebrated writer who had been in the gulags over the previous 2 decades following his return from Spain, where he had served the Loyalist cause during the civil war there. Suddenly, as Christopher and Bülow part company, a Black Opel appears as if out of nowhere, and in passing, strikes Bülow, killing him instantly. Christopher is shocked, but quickly composes himself and later flies to Paris, where he meets with Pachen, his boss who had flown in from Washington to consult with Christopher.

This sets in train a sequence of events that sees Christopher on the move --- to Rome (where he has a home with his wife Cathy; their relationship represents a study of how a life lived as a spy under deep cover can impact in various ways on a marriage), Paris, West Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Africa --- to discover the leak that caused Bülow's death. Plus, resolving the matter of what to do with the manuscript, whose publication would be a revelatory and damning indictment of the Soviet system. McCarry assembles here a colorful cast of characters and with great skill, ties together the various threads of the novel into a cohesive and compelling whole. For any reader of espionage novel, he/she will be in for a merry ride --- much as I was. (less)