Someone has tried to kill FBI assistant director, Kate Bannon, trying to make it look like suicide. Her sometimes lover and former agent, Steve Vail, arrives in Washington for a New Year’s Eve party as her escort. Within a few hours of arriving he has solved two child kidnappings. However, rather than being given time to rest on his laurels, he’s immediately asked to investigate the claim of Calculus, an officer from the Russian embassy who has been recalled to Moscow, that there is a major network of Americans selling secrets to the Russians. Calculus seemingly only left one clue to make a start, but it promises to lead to further clues, and Vail and Bannon set off to solve them and unearth the agents. Only someone seems to be one step ahead, killing them before they are revealed.
I like a good spy thriller novel every now and again. In my teens I read pretty much nothing else – Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Ted Allbeury, Graham Greene, amongst others. So I was quite looking forward to Agent X. In my view it was the literary equivalent of a Steven Seagal movie. The prose was workmanlike and flat and the dialogue wooden, lifeless and corny. The characters have no depth and their back stories are practically none existent. There is barely any chemistry between the leads, despite their supposed attraction. The plot is totally unbelievable, both in premise and its unfolding, with Vail solving a whole series of very difficult puzzles in a matter of seconds, undertaking James Bondesque escapes where the baddies really should have finished him off several times, and relying on a couple of unlikely coincidences. That said, the plot and pace is what got me to the end of the book. If you can suspend your sense of reality and just enjoy this as a corny spy blockbuster then this might be for you. Personally, I'm still with Deighton, Le Carre, Allbeury, Greene and co where plot, prose, atmosphere, characters, sense of place and so on are paramount.