Mark Mills, bestselling author of Amagansett, The Savage Garden, and The Information Officer, is renowned for blending riveting history, rich atmosphere, and thrilling suspense. Now, in House of the Hunted, Mills deftly unfolds a story of betrayal, love, and the inescapable pull of the past as an ex-spy finds himself drawn back into his treacherous former life.
C�te d'Azur, France, 1935: As Europe moves inexorably toward war, Tom Nash feels pleasantly removed, pursuing a quiet writing career on an idyllic stretch of the French Riveria. A former intelligence operative for the British government, Tom now finds refuge among the lively seaside community of expats and artists, hoping to put the worst deeds from his job--and memories of the woman he once loved--far behind him. But Tom's peaceful existence is shattered when an unknown hit man tries to kill him in his sleep. Tom is sure that somebody knows his secrets, and that this attempt on his life won't be the last.
Relying on his instincts for self-preservation, Tom suspects everyone of double-dealing, even people he considers his friends: the Russian art dealers from Paris, the exiled German dissidents, even his former boss and closest confidant. And as he plunges further into his haunted past, Tom feels himself turning into the person he used to be--a dangerous man, capable of anything.
Combining vividly drawn characters and gripping acts of espionage, House of the Hunted is a superbly crafted novel by an exceptional and versatile storyteller.
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April 03, 2012
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Excerpt from House of the Hunted by Mark P. Mills
Petrograd, Russia. January 1919.
The moment the guard called her name she felt the weight of the other women's eyes upon her.
It didn't make sense, didn't fit with the grim clock that regulated their lives. Too late in the day for an interrogation, the usual hour of execution was still some way off.
"Irina Bibikov," snapped the guard once more, his silhouette black against the open door of the darkened cell.
She was hunched on her pallet bed, her back against the wall, her knees pulled tight to her chest for warmth, as tight as her new belly would permit. Unwinding, she rose awkwardly to her feet, her palm pressed to the damp stonework for support.
The guard stepped away from the door. She knew better than to meet his gaze as she passed by him and out into the corridor.
Blinking back the ice-white light from the bare electric bulb, she briefly heard the murmur of prayers on her behalf before the guard pulled the steel door shut behind them.
Tom fought the urge to hurry ahead. Nothing to arouse suspicion, he told himself. His papers, though false, were in good order, good enough to pass close scrutiny. He knew this because he'd been stopped by a Cheka patrol earlier that day while crossing Souvorov Square.
There had been two of them, small men in shapeless greatcoats that reached almost to their ankles, and they had enjoyed their authority over Yegor Sidorenko. The name was Ukrainian, to account for the faint but undisguisable hitch in Tom's accent. He had called them "Comrade"; they had called him "Ukrainian dog" before sending him on his way. More than a year had passed since the Bolshevik coup, but evidently the spirit of brotherhood so widely trumpeted by Lenin, Zinoviev and the others had yet to reach the ears of their secret police. So much for lofty ideals. So much for the Revolution.
Tom knew that he couldn't bank on being quite so lucky if stopped again, but only as he drew level with no. 2 Gorokhovaya did it occur to him that he might actually find himself face-to-face with the same two Chekists as they entered or left their headquarters.
There were patrols coming and going, passing beneath the high, arched gateway punched into the drab fa�ade. Beyond lay the central courtyard, where the executions took place, where the bodies were loaded into the back of trucks, their next stop, their terminus, some nameless hole hacked out of the iron-hard ground beyond the city limits.
At least the sharp north wind sluicing the streets of the Russian capital permitted him to draw his scarf up over his nose, all but concealing his face. As he did so, he cast a furtive glance through the archway, past the sentries shivering at their posts.
What was he looking for? Signs of unusual activity, some indication that the plan had already been compromised. He saw nothing of note, just a courtyard shrouded in the gathering gloom, and the dim outlines of men and vehicles.
Trudging on past through the deep snow, Tom silently cursed the fact that Irina hadn't been transferred by now to one of the state prisons, Shpalernaya or Deriabinskaya, where security was considerably more lax and bribery endemic. Instead, his only option had been to try to spring her from the beast's lair.
In spite of all the planning, all the precautions, it suddenly seemed too much to hope for, and that unwelcome thought chilled him, far more than the raw wind that slammed into him at the end of the street. He bore left, hugging the shadows.
He couldn't quite see St. Isaac's Cathedral up ahead but he could sense its brooding presence in the darkness.
It was a cellar room, small and all but empty. There were some mops poking from their pails in one corner and a few large cans of cleaning fluid stacked up in another, but Irina's eye was drawn to the wooden stool standing alone in the middle of the room. On it were some clothes, neatly folded, with two pieces of paper resting on top.
One was a visitor's pass made out to Anna Constantinov. On the second was scrawled St. Isaac's Cathedral. The words were in English, and she recognized the handwriting.
"Quick," said the guard. He was the youngest of the three who oversaw the female prisoners, not much more than a boy, his mustache a tragic overture to manhood. "Get changed."
Irina stared at the slip of paper in her hand, not quite believing that it had happened, trying to picture what Tom must have put himself through, the dangers he had faced, the border crossing from Finland . . .
It was almost inconceivable.
"Hurry," hissed the guard.