||Aug 3 2002
Barnes & Noble.com
Derek Hart Books
Derek Smith is Chief of Diplomatic Security at the US Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1969. While most of the world is watching American involvement in Vietnam, Agent Smith must prevent an international incident boiling over into WWIII. A Cold War spy yarn with more twists than you can count.
The year is 1969 and much of the world is in turmoil. The Vietnam War rages on in Southeast Asia and NATO is still focused on the Bear - The Soviet Union. Into this arena arrives Derek Smith, site security chief for the US Embassy, in Reykjavik, Iceland. Held responsible for the failures at the US Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, Smith has been banished to Iceland. Once there, however, Smith discovers that his transfer had a much more sinister agenda. The US Ambassador is suspected of espionage, but he has been a life-long friend of Smith’s. Their paths have crossed before, with no real evidence that the Ambassador is anything but a loyal civil servant. Then one night the picture becomes blurry. Soviet commandos break into Smith’s apartment by “mistake” and so sets the stage for a battle against time. Embroiled in this conflict are the mutinous crew of a Russian submarine, a sunken WWII U-boat loaded with gold, secret agents from countries around the globe and innocent players wrapped up in the conflict. During the ‘Cod War’, between England and Iceland, over fishing limits, the Soviet Union lost track of one of her ballistic submarines. Then in 5 separate incidents across the world, submarines vanished. Nations were brought to the brink of a global conflict, while most Americans were focused on the Nixon/Johnson presidential campaign and the War in Vietnam. Into this diplomatic crisis comes Derek Smith, a security specialist in the doghouse, who is actually the chosen solution to prevent an escalating nightmare. Smith has a checkered past, collegiate fencing champion, graduate of The State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and scapegoat for the failings at the Embassy in Saigon, he is spiraling into a conflict seemingly out of his league. Take an action-packed, roller-coaster ride into the shadowy back-room conflict of embassies, nations pushing the brink of war and agents betraying innocent, or not so innocent bystanders.
A very satisfying read, surprising in its accuracy, while successfully capturing the people and atmosphere of my native Iceland. I am impressed and pleased with how well the author presented detailed facts blended with an entertaining storyline.
Nifty Little Spy Thriller! ****
When he got stuffed in prison for failing, despite his best efforts, to prevent a terrorist assault on the US embassy in Saigon, Derek Smith figured he'd pretty much hit bottom. But when an old teacher muscles him into Iceland's embassy to spy on an old friend, he begins to see that he was wrong. Things have definitely gotten worse. Not only does he not want to think Karl Rolvaag is doubling for the Soviet Union, but he hasn't the slightest desire to try doing this latest job under the eyes, and the fingers, of all the varied players he soon discovers to be sharing the glorious northern locale. Looks like Old Home Week, one way and another, except that Derek doesn't trust most of these characters, both personally and professionally.
But nobody wants to hear his doubts. Just get the job done.
Naturally, complications multiply. Immediately. First there's the succulent Minister of Roads, Ms. Hugrún Eiriksdottir, formidably competent and voraciously interested, not just in Derek's body, but in his whereabouts as well. Not exactly convenient when you're more or less working undercover. Then there's the armed kidnap of the ambassador's daughter from the embassy itself, which casts a pretty dim light on the performance of the agent in charge of security. Namely him. Pursuing that trail proves even more problematic, since it turns up a Soviet nuclear submarine whose crew want to defect. Of course, everybody and their dog is looking for the sub, with an eye to blowing them out of the water. Not good, since Jennifer Rolvaag is being held on that ship. Add another burden to an already burdensome job, and pile on a few bodies stumbled upon here and there, the apparently urgent desire of just about everybody on the island to do him some sort of physical harm, and the ticking clock of obviously escalating tensions and unfriendly agendas, and you have a job you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
Derek is not a quitter, but he's forced to admit that a lot of the luster of Special Service has worn off by now, more is wearing off with every clout on the head, and even the sex is beginning to be a bit much. Not that he's old, but retirement's beginning to look more and more seductive, if only he can bust this case, keep the death toll reasonably modest, and ferret out the real spook at the bottom of all the leaks he's only supposed to graze the surface of. Derek has never dealt well with authority, so stepping on toes won't bother him much, so long as he doesn't step on the wrong ones too soon. Hard to keep score without a game-card.
I loved Derek--coincidence that he's the author's namesake? Written mostly from his point of view, the narrative has much the flavor of this baked-to-a-crackly-crunch hero, while showing you also the marshmallow center that makes him so good at his job. It's a Real Life kind of dichotomy, translated splendidly to the pages of a thriller with plenty of breath-stealing fits and starts. There's nothing much smooth about this roller-coaster, but it has everything you took the ride for: surprise, heroism, betrayal, violence, mystery, threat, a little sex, and the potential for World War III. Particularly I loved Minister Hugrún, who just would not stop, and just could not let go of Smith, no matter what her doubts. In the true spirit of her Viking ancestors, she was determined to prevail, which fact proves both a help and a hindrance to our poor, beleaguered hero. Nonetheless, he soldiers on, digging inexorably for the kernel of truth buried in the growing volcano of lies and half-truths, uneasy alliances and temporary truces, enemies and partisans, friend and foe. While there's a rough spot or two, here and there, in the narrative, and while I may personally doubt that the hero could actually have survived so many adventures as pack the covers of the book, I have to say that I tremendously enjoyed chasing along with Derek Smith in his quest to save the world for "truth, justice and the American Way." I think you will, too.
Derek Smith has been assigned to Iceland as security chief for the US embassy. It seems a rather unassuming task for a talented and experienced Security Service Special Agent but he is being made to take the rap for a recent fiasco in Saigon. Once there however it appears that although he is no longer a part of the Vietnam War there is plenty going on in Iceland – the Cold War, the Cod War, defecting Russians and Nazi gold to start with…
Derek Hart’s earlier novel Tales of the Yellow Silk (also reviewed by this reviewer) introduced this writer with his enviably easy style and slim novels bursting with adventure. This is the sort of “old fashioned” espionage fiction that is all too rare today and combines action with romance and solid historical knowledge. Another admirable feature of this book is the setting. There are not many books set in Iceland and this one tells the reader plenty about the place and does it in a deceptively clever way. Told in the third person it would read like a tourist brochure but Derek Smith himself narrates the tale and so it comes over as if he is talking to a friend about his hair-raising experiences in a beautiful country. As with the previous novel (with which there is no connection) Hart paces his work well and the result is an admirably short novel (under 300 pages) in a time of tomes. I look forward to reading more of his work soon.
Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde
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