Britain's MI5 tolerates Charlie because he's their best field agent. What none of his colleagues knows, though, is that he is married to Natalia Fedova, a colonel in the FSB, the Russian intelligence successor to the KGB. It's a secret that could land her in front of a firing squad, and him in jail for life. Worst of all, their daughter would then end up in a Russian state orphanage.
But a frantic call from Natalia has brought their secret out, and Charlie must lead a combined MI5/MI6 mission to rescue her. He soon realizes that his higher-ups have other priorities than his family's safety. Charlie will have to outwit not just the Russians but his own government as well to protect the lives of his wife and child.
Clever, unpredictable, and exciting, Red Star Burning shows why Brian Freemantle has been widely praised as one of the greatest living espionage novelists.
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Thomas Dunne Books
June 19, 2012
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Excerpt from Red Star Burning by Brian Freemantle
"Kill myself?" echoed Charlie, derision and astonishment combined.
"That's what I think you'll end up doing."
"Bollocks," rejected Charlie. At the back--too often in the forefront--of his mind had always hovered the expectation of dying. But violently: from a breath-sucking assassin's bullet or the burn of a back-alley knife or a shattering explosion. But never of killing himself, not even while confronting his now fossilized existence.
"It would be understandable," sympathized the small, hunched psychiatrist, George Cowley. "You've spent almost thirty years at the front end of British intelligence, always on the edge. Now you're blown, in a Protection Program with a new identity, a retirement salary, a safe house, and a protection regime. All of which you're refusing to acknowledge or observe. From which the only conclusion is that you're either inviting Russian assassination or intending to kill yourself."
"Bollocks," repeated Charlie. He had to do better than this: convince this asshole of an MI5 psychiatrist that he'd got it all wrong. As he, in turn, had got it all wrong, staging an intentionally deceiving performance for the too easily detected minders during his limited excursions from the safe house. The internal cameras and listening devices would be recording everything of this performance, too, he accepted.
"It would have been easier for you, if maybe not for them, if you'd had a family: a wife, children, to fill the emptiness within you," Cowley pressed on. "But you haven't, have you, Charlie? All you've ever had is the job and now you don't have that anymore."
Wrong again! agonized Charlie. He did have a wife. And a daughter. A family still in Russia that no one knew about. Nor could they ever know, because Natalia Fedova was a senior officer in the Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, the intelligence agency of the Russian Federation that his own MI5 service believed was determined to assassinate him.
"You expect me to adjust in five minutes to all that's happened!" demanded Charlie, discomfited at his inadequate reply.
Cowley, who had the highest security clearance, tapped Charlie's file on the table between them. "I've read every word that's in here: know everything you've done. And having read it I'd expect you to understand the very real danger you're in and accept all the protection that's being offered."
What danger was Natalia facing after his most recent Moscow assignment? Charlie asked himself, as he had repeatedly over the past three months. If he was blown, as MI5 believed him to be, the search might stretch back to his phoney Moscow defection, when Natalia Fedova had been his interrogator. Charlie had never been totally satisfied then she'd sanitized their subsequent relationship from what then would have been KGB records. "I'm not convinced the risk is as great as everyone believes it to be."
"That's for the Director-General to decide, not you. And that decision's been made."
"As yours has been made," Charlie fought back. "And it's wrong."
"You ever kill anyone, Charlie?" demanded the psychiatrist, unexpectedly.
"Never intentionally." That was debatable, thought Charlie, uneasy at the prescience of the other man. Charlie hoped there was nothing in the bulky personnel dossier with which Cowley could catch him out.
"Didn't it ever worry you, people getting killed? Assassinated?" persisted the other man.
"It didn't happen often and when it did--or had to--it was part of the job: I never pulled a trigger." That reply was a cop-out, Charlie acknowledged, but they'd been talking of death and dying for the past thirty minutes and he was fed up at the verbal ping-pong.
"Could you have pulled a trigger, if you'd had to?"
"I'd been trained to that level, as a last resort: I never got to that resort." Charlie was surprised at the sudden although easily suppressed anger, an emotion he hadn't experienced for a long time because it indicated lack of control, which was always dangerous professionally.
"Do you still think you could pull the trigger, if you had to?"
"Not with the barrel against my own head, no," refused Charlie, guessing the direction in which Cowley was leading.
"You sure about that?" demanded the psychiatrist. "Or are you pissed off that the rest of your life is going to be spent incarcerated in security-covered, audio-and-CCTV-equipped safe houses, forever buried deep within a protection program, never ever able again to meet or speak to anyone you once knew?"
"I'll get there," responded Charlie, dismissively.
"You're not even trying," accused Cowley, dismissive in return. "You're supposed to have adopted the new name--the entirely new identity--you've been allocated and you haven't. You're supposed never to establish patterns--never the same restaurants, never the same pub, never the same cinema, never the same route or transport to the same supermarket--and you haven't. You're supposed to alter the way you dress, alter as much of your appearance as possible, and you haven't: you're even still wearing those spread-apart Hush Puppies about to fall off your awkward feet. As part of that appearance change--in your particular case, all the more essential because of the target you now are--you're supposed seriously to consider surgical facial reconstruction and you haven't bothered to attend three specialist appointments to discuss it."
"I told you I'd get round to it!" Lame again, Charlie recognized.
"How often, since you've been in the program, have you seriously considered suicide?"
"Since entering the protection program I have never, ever, considered suicide," replied Charlie, enunciating each word for emphasis.
"I don't believe you," declared Cowley. "It's a fucking awful existence. I've never had a protected patient who hasn't thought of taking his or her own life."
"How many actually did?"
"Six," Cowley came back at once.
"I'm not going to become your seventh!" assured Charlie.
"I know you're not," agreed the psychiatrist. "I'm going to put you on suicide watch to ensure you don't."
Fuck it, thought Charlie. He had to hurry to reach Natalia in time.
* * *
"Defect to the British!" exclaimed Elana, her voice breaking. "You can't ... we can't..." She tried to continue but couldn't, her mind seized by the enormity of what Radtsic had told her, her eyes fixed farther ahead of the embankment road along which they were walking, the river-bordered British embassy in the distance. "We can't ... you're the virtual head of Russian intelligence ... it's unthinkable...." She tried again: "What about Andrei?"
"It'll be easy with Andrei at the Sorbonne," insisted Radtsic, whose heavy mustache, gray like his thick hair, and heavy, indulged body had in the past made him the butt of jokes about his physical resemblance to Stalin. "Paris is closer to London than we are here in Moscow. The moment we run he'll be picked up and brought to us there. We'll be together and we'll be safe."
"It's too much for me to understand," protested the woman. In contrast to her husband, who was fifteen years her senior, Elana was a slim, even elegant woman committed to her career as professor of physics at Moscow University. "My work ... what about my work ... I mean ... I don't know."
"I can't go without you. You'd be arrested: dismissed from the university." Radtsic was agonized by the conversation, his whole body clammy with perspiration.
"I didn't mean I wouldn t come with you. I was thinking of everything I would be abandoning ... leaving behind. Are you sure, really sure, that you're being targeted?"
"I found two listening devices in my office today, one actually in the telephone handset, the other in the base of the desk light: that's why we're walking--so we can talk--out in the open like this," disclosed Radtsic. "And today I was told there's no reason for my attending the quarterly operational review, which I've done ever since I was appointed deputy chairman: actually headed more sessions than the chairman himself."
"Oh my God!" said Elana, who was a devoted churchgoer. "It's true, isn't it? You're going to be purged."
"No, I'm not," insisted Radtsic, defiantly. "I'm going to get out."