Simon & Schuster £16.99

Agent 6, By Tom Rob Smith

The ex-MGB hero of Tom Rob Smith's historical thrillers gets to travel ever further afield, but will he be able to outrun his past?

Even by the standards of Soviet citizenry, Leo Demidov is a very unlucky fellow.

The protagonist of Tom Rob Smith's trio of Russian thrillers, a model secret policeman who belatedly located his moral compass, was born a starving peasant in the 1930s. As if that wasn't tough enough, he has latterly endured the Gulag and the Lubyanka, and been declared an enemy of the state on more than one occasion. In Child 44, Smith's debut, Leo's long-lost brother turned out to be a serial killer. In The Secret Speech, his adopted daughter took up with an underworld gang, forcing him to pursue her to civil war-torn Budapest.

I hesitate to describe Leo as a hero, because his many misfortunes are a kind of karmic retribution, visited upon him as punishment for the awful deeds of his MGB past, when he believed he was doing the dirty work of a fundamentally benevolent state. Now disillusioned and ashamed of his former self, he not only has to live with his guilt, but is also constantly reminded of it by vengeful figures from his former life. The villain of The Secret Speech turned out to be one of his arrestees, transformed by years of Siberian exile into a criminal mastermind.

Suffice to say that by the start of the final part of the trilogy, Agent 6, Leo's luck has only fleetingly improved. The Demidov family is living quietly, almost contentedly, in 1960s Moscow. But when Leo's wife and daughters are sent to New York on a "peace tour" without him, his paranoia proves to be prescient.

This is the first time that Smith has taken us beyond the Soviet Empire, where we learn that the West suffers its own dangers and discontents (not least among the African-American community), and has its own morally corruptible secret police force. Americans have as much reason to fear their masters as they do their Cold War rivals.

The novel's inciting incident – the one which, as the book blurb says, "tears Leo's family apart" – occurs almost at its mid point, and it would be unfair to reveal it here. But notwithstanding a lengthy prologue in which he first meets his beloved wife Raisa, Leo is largely absent from the opening half of the book – and frankly, I rather yearned for the return of Smith's conflicted, compelling anti-hero.

Agent 6 is geographically and chronologically more expansive than either Child 44 or The Secret Speech. After visiting an America in the grip of civil rights unrest, we skip forward from the mid-century to the early Eighties, when the USSR is embroiling itself in a war in Afghanistan that will contribute to its eventual demise. It's here, in Kabul, that we find Leo again, working as a disinterested adviser to the Soviet occupying forces. He wisely predicts the problems that Afghanistan will pose for the Russians, and for their Western usurpers. Yet both he and the author are waylaid from solving the book's central mystery; and when that resolution does finally arrive, it seems to do so as much by luck as by design.

The brilliance of Child 44 and The Secret Speech lay in Smith's ability to hitch both Soviet history lesson and convincing character study to an express-train plot. Here, the express train takes until page 250 to leave the station, then makes a number of unscheduled stops on its Cold War mystery tour. The history lesson and the character study remain intact. But the narrative, save for a few short bursts of action, is languid by comparison with its predecessors.

Child 44 was sufficiently ambitious to earn a place on the Booker Prize longlist (a rare honour for a thriller) and sufficiently gripping to have its film rights snapped up by Ridley Scott – though the thorny subject of child murder may prove a harder sell for Hollywood than it is for book publishers. For those who were engrossed by the first two novels in the trilogy, Agent 6 provides a moving, melancholy conclusion, if not always a thrilling one. It will certainly be interesting to see where Smith turns next, and without Leo Demidov to accompany him.

To order any of these books at a reduced price, including free UK p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 0843 0600 030 or visit independentbooksdirect.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific