This is definitely not a book I would have chosen to read on my own, since Cold War thrillers are hardly my thing (Cold War yes; thrillers no). For reasons I don’t fully understand, since it matches oddly with the more literary books on the list, this novel is one of the books teachers can select for our Grade 12 English course here in the province. I’ve never taught it, but this year I decided to let my students choose the second novel themselves from the approved list, and wouldn’t you know it, one student had to be difficult and choose the book I hadn’t read. So then I had to read the book and make up assignments on it.
After reading through it in two days, I’m no wiser as to how Archer ever made it onto a high-school reading list (if you wanted to include more mainstream, commercial fiction along with the literary fiction there are still a lot better writers you could go with). That said, I’ll give Archer this much: what the book does, it does well. The pages kept turning and I was at least mildly interested throughout to see how everything was going to work out.
The characterization is quite thin and caricatured in places. Adam, the main character, is bequeathed a mysterious letter from his dead father which leads to a priceless Russian icon with a document hidden inside that could CHANGE THE COURSE OF HISTORY. An eeeeevvil KGB spy, Romanov, is also after the icon, and pursues Adam across Europe. Adam is virtuous, noble and admirable throughout (minus telling a few lies and stealing the odd thing to help him get away); Romanov practically twirls his mustache. Both men are in top physical condition, excellent fighters, quick-witted and brilliant and disguise and thinking up cover stories. The female double-bass player with a British symphony orchestra who twice shelters Adam and helps him escape looks like she has the potential to be an interesting character, but probably in a completely different novel.
Still, as I said, it’s a page turner, and it was a quick and painless read. If you like thrillers and Cold War era intrigue, you could definitely do worse.