From Alan Judd, winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize for The Devil's Own Work and author of the acclaimed biography Ford Madox Ford--a mesmerizing tale from the golden age of espionage.
It is the mid-1970s, the height of the Cold War. Charles Thoroughgood, recently discharged from military service, begins, rather comically, his training at MI6. But on one of his first real assignments, the charming but inexpert spook learns from a former Cambridge classmate a secret that threatens to end his career just as it begins: Charles's deceased father, a decorated military hero, is suspected of having worked for the KGB. As Charles struggles to uncover the truth, ultimately forced to choose between honoring his father and the inexorable code of the Secret Service, he is drawn deeper and deeper into the vortex of the international intelligence machinery--far deeper than any veteran spy, much less a novice, could ever imagine.
Authentic and elegantly told, Legacy is an utterly satisfying new take on a classic genre.
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November 08, 2004
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Excerpt from Legacy by Alan Judd
It was a warm summer when Charles Thoroughgood left the army and joined the Secret Service but politically the world was deep in the Cold War. He moved to London and rented a basement flat in Kensington with a view of sodden detritus in the well of the building and the housekeeper's kitchen. He suspected that, from behind her dirty net curtains, she spent days and nights in unprofitable surveillance of his own uncurtained window. "Slack Alice," Roger Donnington, his colleague and flatmate, had dubbed her. "Face that would stop a coal barge."
One autumn Monday, he got up after a restless night to a humid, muggy London. The flat's tiny bathroom had no window and the electricity was off. Shaving by candlelight was a slow operation because he had to keep moving the candle as he traversed each cheek, and it was difficult to get any light at all beneath the chin without risk of singeing. He had long owned an electric razor, a present from his mother, but it had never left its box. The idea of using it had always felt like a concession to something, perhaps a luxurious and corrupting modernity. It was irrelevant now, anyway, because he had used the battery for his radio. Calling an electrician to restore mains power had, so far, proved too great a concession for either him or Roger.
The milk and butter in the powerless fridge smelt rancid. Someone would have to throw them away, sometime. He made toast in the gas stove, covered it with Marmite and drank black tea. He tidied the bedclothes on his double mattress on the floor, put on his light suit and flicked a tie free of the clothes crammed on the hook on his bedroom door. Before leaving he knocked on Roger's door. Roger had his own mattress in the sitting room, with the television at its foot. Charles had got in late the night before, so had no idea whether Roger was alone or accompanied. There was no answer. He knocked again, louder. "Okay?" he called.
Roger's groan became a cough. "Okay."
It was not to be a normal day at the office, though few were at that time. He was glad of that: secret service seemed so far to provide the advantages of bureaucratic employment--security, purpose, companionship and, though he might not yet have admitted it to himself, the pleasing consciousness of service--without the monotony he assumed to go with office life. He wouldn't need his bike that day, so left it propped up against the bedroom wall.
The best features of the flat were the front door of the building and the curving staircase, both of a size and grandeur to give an impression of spaciousness and opulence within. It had been cheaply converted into flats during the 1950s and 1960s and already the additions seemed older and more worn than the house. The plaster was cracked, paintwork faded, doors warped and skirting boards had parted company with their walls. The door of Charles's flat was tucked beneath the bottom turn of the staircase, so that stepping from it into the entrance hall was literally to enter a bigger and brighter world.
Out on Queensgate, he turned left towards Hyde Park after a deliberate glance across the wide street to check that his car was undamaged. The rush-hour traffic was heavier than usual, perhaps in anticipation of further wildcat strikes on the Underground, and the delay in crossing the Cromwell Road gave him the pretext to look about as if seeking a quicker way. He did the same at Kensington Gore, then walked behind the Albert Memorial and into the park. He walked unhurriedly, trying to establish a regular but not purposeless pace.
He looked back around again before he crossed the Serpentine Road and took one of the footpaths to Marble Arch and Speakers Corner. Anyone following would have to keep well back, or ahead or to the side, but then close quickly before Charles entered the Marble Arch subway. Presumably they would have car as well as foot surveillance, and radio. A car team might become a foot team when they needed to close, but to do that the cars would have to loiter in the busy Park Lane or Bayswater Road, which was never easy.
Once in the subway and reasonably sure he was out of sight, he broke the rules by looking behind without an obvious reason. None of the figures in the park was hurrying. No puffy, sweaty man or woman suddenly appeared at the top of the steps. Perhaps they were waiting in Queensgate for Roger, if they were there at all. They might have a long wait.
In Oxford Street he made for C&A, where he bought two pairs of black socks. It was cooler in the store and he loitered a while among the suits, before taking a back street to Marylebone Station, walking slowly with his jacket over his arm. At the station he bought a day return to Beaconsfield. The newsagent had sold out of The Times because the printers had gone on strike during the night, leaving only the early editions available.