Mark Henshaw’s latest thriller, The Fall of Moscow Station, published February 16, 2016, and the third in the Red Cell series, gives readers yet another glimpse into the world of espionage in today’s world. CIA agents and analysts, Krya Stryker and Jonathan Burke escape yet another attempt on their lives by the bad guys of the world. This time it is thanks to disgruntled CIA agent, Alden Maines, who exposed a Russian agent recently recruited as a CIA asset.
As the head of Russia’s Foundation for Advanced Nuclear Research, General Stepan Illarionovich Strelnikov, was a prized asset. When his body is found floating in a lake in Germany, just days after the defection of Alden Maines, efforts begin to exfiltrate Maines. Meanwhile, Maines, who had hoped to be a double agent in order to exact revenge on the United States for passing over him for promotions, while collecting millions of dollars from Russia, was exposed as a defector by his Russian handler. When the head of the GRU forces Maines to reveal all agents working on Russian soil, Moscow Station is left in shambles, and it will take decades to get new agents in place, and to recruit new Russian assets.
Henshaw, a former Red Cell analyst, takes the reader on a tension-filled exploration of the lives and activities of our agents, and of the toll taken, both physically and emotionally, on agents everywhere. Not only those who risk their lives, and either are seriously injured or witness their teammates’ injuries and deaths, but also those who are required to torture prisoners. According to one character, being required to torture other humans “takes their souls”. That may have been the most telling revelation about the truth of spies, political enemies, and torture.
Like many writers, Henshaw frequently shares his views on political and social issues through the voices of his characters. This is as it should be. After all, while history is the record of what has happened to us, the arts compile the record of what we think about those events:
For example, in “Red Cell” (the 2nd book of this series) the agents learned that CIA station chief in Venezuela, Sam Rigdon, who was a large donor to the campaign of the current president, Daniel Rostov, turned out to be a double agent for Hugo Chavez. In “Moscow Station” Maines grouses about a president making a station chief out of a political donor.
In thinking about President Rostow, the newly promoted deputy director of national intelligence, Kathy Cooke, considers the prolonged stress that presidents must endure, and how this could be one of the factors that lead many presidents to have extra-marital affairs as a means of a brief escape from reality.
Arkady Lavrov, head of the GRU, criticizes America and asks, “Why else do so many of your politicians become wealthy in the service of your nation?” A valid question, even if it does come from a very bad guy.
Then there was the Russian crew chief who “rubbed a hand across his face, stretching out the leathery skin wrinkled before its time from abuse of cigarettes and cheap alcohol”. The detrimental health effects of tobacco use was mentioned more than once by characters in this book.
Lavrov also thought to himself about the plague that alcoholism (long Russia’s number one social problem) has been on the Russian people brought on by their love of vodka.
Later, while interrogating Stryker, Lavrov stated that, even though historians say it came later, the night the wall between East and West Germany came down was the night the Warsaw Pact “fell”. I am unsure whether this is fact, or Henshaw’s opinion.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Fall of Moscow Station, and recommend it highly. Even though one of the characters states that she, and probably another, will be retiring, I am hoping for the continuation of this very compelling series. Still, there are some things about it that bring out the grumpiness in this reviewer. The first two are probably related to poor editing of the electronic kind, as I believe a human fluent in English would have noticed them.
- On page 88, the article “a” was omitted when the narrator describes a bunker as “… swept clean of debris, with single row of large…” Obviously, it should have said, “… a single row…”
- On page 91, the narrator states, “Five men were talking toward them.” Based on the context in which it was written, that should be “walking toward them”.
- On pages 47 and 50 the word “bring” is used incorrectly. It should have been “take”. This is one of my pet peeves having to do with improper word usage.
Again, my grumpiness is toward the editors, not the author or the book itself. At risk of repeating myself, this is a breathtaking, compelling story of political intrigue and adventure told by a former Red Cell agent. If you enjoy that genre, you will most definitely enjoy The Fall of Moscow Station.