The New Cold War continues, as CIA agent Lyndsey Duncan travels to London, and infiltrates the world of the Russian Oligarchs in Britain
CIA agent Lyndsey Duncan has a new asset to turn, in order to prevent the most calculated global invasion of our time. But will their blossoming friendship get in the way?
After an explosive takedown of a well-placed mole within the CIA, agent Lyndsey Duncan has been tasked with keeping tabs on her newest Russian asset, deadly war criminal Dmitri Tarasenko. She arrives in London fully focused on the assignment at hand, until her MI6 counterpart, Davis Ranford, the very person responsible for ending her last mission overseas after they were caught in a whirlwind affair, personally calls for her.
After a suspicious attack on a powerful Russian oligarch’s property on Billionaires’ Row in the toniest neighborhood in London, Davis needs Lyndsey to cozy up to the billionaire’s aristocratic British wife, Emily Rotenberg. Lyndsey’s job is to obtain any and all information related to Emily’s husband, Mikhail Rotenberg, and his relationship with the new Russian president, whom CIA and MI6 believe is responsible for the sudden mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, the Hard Man. Fortunately for Lyndsey, there’s little to dissuade Emily from taking in a much-needed confidante. After all, misery needs company.
But before Lyndsey can cover much ground with her newfound friend, the CIA unveils a perturbing connection between Mikhail and Russia’s geopolitical past, one that could dangerously upend the world order as we know it. As the pressure to turn Emily becomes higher than ever, Lyndsey must walk a fine and ever-changing line to keep the oligarch’s fortune from falling into Russian hands and plunging the world into a new, disastrous geopolitical reality.
In Red London, the highly-anticipated sequel to Red Widow, CIA agent Lyndsey Duncan has been stationed in London to help out with an evolving situation involving a Russian oligarch who may or may not be on the outs with the new president. One of my most-anticipated novels of the year, I’m happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations.
I thoroughly enjoyed Red Widow (2021), Katsu’s first espionage thriller, so I was very pleased when it was announced that the author was bringing back one of the characters from that novel, Lyndsey Duncan. After I was lucky enough tog et a review copy, I dove right in. Katsu’s written another excellent espionage novel, further developing the protagonist and her background, and also expanding readers’ understanding of the world in which she lives and operates.
Duncan, who was brought in to CIA in Red Widow to hunt down a mole at Langley, has her own baggage with the Agency — specifically, a past dalliance with a British agent. After the tense events that make up the previous book, Duncan is looking forward to being back in the field (albeit in relatively cushy London). At the beginning of Red London, she’s only recently arrived in London, still finding her way in the new city, still learning her neighbourhood, and beginning to manage a new asset in Russia.
There has been a shift in Russian politics, following “the Ukraine fiasco”, and Putin has been replaced by a new strongman (if wishing made it so…). The new Russian leader has a different set of loyal oligarchs, and is intent on cementing his power and position. This puts some of the previous leader’s favourites in the crosshairs. After a series of curious events involving one of Russia’s London-based oligarchs, Duncan is tasked with getting close to Mikhail Rotenberg’s wife, Emily — a member of the British aristocracy, albeit from a family whose fortunes are rapidly dwindling. The marriage isn’t what Emily had imagined when it first began, and CIA and British Intelligence think she’s a potential asset against the new Russian regime. It’s a risky mission, but one that Duncan feels confident she can accomplish. It’s also a mission that brings Duncan back into contact with Davis Ranford, the man with whom she had an affair, and the reason her career with CIA has been somewhat disrupted.
Through her experiences getting to know Emily, and the various other characters who come into her orbit, we learn a bit more about the world of international espionage and politics, and also the Russian oligarchic diaspora — their shifting allegiances, the murky agendas of its members, and the risky existence that many of these people live.
As with the previous novel, Katsu’s writing is great, and knowing that the author has worked for CIA in the past adds a feeling of verisimilitude to much of the tradecraft mentioned in the story. (It’s not all romantic and flashy, some of it seemed to be damned inconvenient — especially the dry cleaning). Katsu does a great job of balancing detail and story, never allowing the former to get in the way of the briskly-plotted and well-told story.
If you are a fan of espionage fiction, then I highly recommend you give Katsu’s Red Widow and Red London a read. I really enjoyed this book (as well as the previous one in the series). The end of this book also strongly suggests that there’s a possible third novel in the works — and I, for one, am very eager to read it.
Also on CR: Review of Red Widow