You might feel a little guilty reading Adrian Magson's Red Station (Severn House, 2010) the first in his Harry Tate series. There's no fine writing here, a la Benjamin Black. What atmosphere there is, is oppressive and uninviting. And Our Hero, Harry, is pretty straight-up: no hidden psychological backstory for him. Sure, Harry is angry that he's been relegated to a remote, off-the-grid posting in Georgia (as in Back in the USSR not peaches). He oversaw a drug bust that went bad, not his fault, but he's in charge, so he takes the fall. And that fall is to be sent to this unknown little remote post, staffed by a few others who misbehaved somewhere along the line. It feels like a dead-end, career-wise, except no one told Harry that no one actually returns to active service from Red Station. And now that the Russians are coming (really!), there is a bit of a problem for the UK govt.as to what to do with all these apparently misguided operatives who are directly in the line of fire. It's not the fire that worries them, rather that even bad agents know more than we want the Russkies to find out. So, who is after them, who knows about them, and how do they get out.
I can't figure out why I enjoyed this so much. The prose is serviceable, but poorly edited (do we need the word tits twice in one paragraph?). And Magson employs one of my most-disliked mechanisms, the cliff-hanger chapter end. I've never understood the point of ending a chapter in mid-conversation. I'm not going to stop reading just because someone has put in some sort of artificial break like a chapter number. The story even has that set-piece of spy thrillers, the desperate trip to the airport. Finally, what is the point of the cover photo of snow-covered roofs? We're not in Siberia for chrissakes.
But Red Station is a good yarn, moves fast, and like what I THOUGHT it was, MI-5 the telly series, is totally believeable in a cheerfully paranoid sort of way. Harry's lack of psychological baggage is a refreshing change from so many of Our Heroes (up next: Quirke, the master baggage handler, who offers quite a contrast). We know that Government is behind all sort of nefarious schemes. And, great to see the Russians as the bad guys still. So I think I'll pick up another Harry Tate tale. As it happens, I have another book next to the tub by the same author, this a completely different series, featuring a French detective in the 1960s. I've given it a couple of starts, and see that Magson's inability to vary his prose strikes again. But the tale seems to involve some of la Resistance, so WW2, here we come!