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
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect