Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
I've enjoyed all of Gavin Lyall's standalone thrillers – stories like Midnight Plus One, The Most Dangerous Game, and The Wrong Side of the Sky – but especially like his Major Maxim series. Ex-SAS Harry Maxim, the very model of a modern military gentleman, is straight as an arrow, which does not serve him well when involved with politicians and spies – which he is all too often. He gets into very serious trouble in every episode, but somehow always comes through with his integrity intact.
Harry's wife Jenny died in a bombed plane and his parents help him raise his son Chris – he's continually guilt-ridden when his job prevents him from spending time with his son. At this point in the series, Harry Maxim is seconded to 10 Downing Street, working for the lazy but very wily George Harbinger, and often in liaison (and in conflict) with the devious, somewhat amoral, Security Service agent Agnes Algar – of course, their prickly relationship slowly and steadily develops into something stronger, to the initial dismay of both parties.
This story starts with analysts monitoring East German news and speculating about a rising political star named Gustav Eismark. We see an old woman, a talented but damaged musician, who lives in the country and teaches piano. Then Harry meets an old army friend who asks for his help for a deserter, Ron Blagg, who got involved in a special op on the request of a woman, Mrs. Howard, he believed was a British agent. Two people died in Germany, Blagg fled, and now he wants in from the cold. Harry tries to help him. Agnes is called to a high level meeting 'To consider the conduct of Major H. R. Maxim'. His digging into Blagg's story has 'started a constitutional crisis'.
The plot quickly thickens, and the search is on for information obtained by the now dead Mrs. Howard. Harry heads to Germany, and then works under the radar, helped by Agnes. When Harry tells Agnes the secret that Eismark had been trying so hard to hide, she replies 'God Almighty' to which his answer is, 'He's seen worse in His time.' If you haven't met Major Maxim yet, then you really should start reading this thrilling military/spy series.