With international espionage and political corruption dominating the news cycle, let’s highlight just those topics in this month’s sample of new crime fiction. Intelligent plots, grave themes and full-blooded characters reign here — light-years away from slam-bang battles and two-dimensional action figures.
John le Carré, “Agent Running in the Field” (Viking, $29). He didn’t invent the modern spy story, but le Carré has long set its gold standard. His latest makes it abundantly clear that the author, now in his late 80s, has lost none of his vigor, incisiveness, dry wit or moral outrage.
With Brexit and other craziness churning in the background, a British spy named Nat — no last name, please — languishes in a dull desk job, his glory days in the field seemingly over. Nonetheless, the agent finds himself at the nexus of three explosive, interrelated developments — and devises a daring plan to prove he’s still got what it takes.
Martin Cruz Smith, “The Siberian Dilemma” (Simon & Schuster, $27). Cruz Smith returns to his renowned protagonist, Moscow police detective Arkady Renko, who was introduced in “Gorky Park.” Renko has been around the block and seen a lot, but here he sets out in a new direction — the terrifying vastness of Siberia, where he searches for journalist Tatiana Petrovna, who disappeared while researching an exposé on Russia’s ultra rich.
Alan Furst, “Under Occupation” (Penguin Random House, $27). Europe in the World War II era continues to be fertile ground for Furst’s vivid, evocative work. Nazi-occupied Paris, 1942: Detective-book author Paul Ricard is drawn into the underground resistance and is tasked with, among other assignments, making contact with a network of Polish workers smuggling vital German secrets. This is not Furst at his best — it seems oddly slack at times — but even subpar Furst is to be treasured.
Anne Perry, “A Christmas Gathering” (Ballantine, $20). A short historical mystery from the absorbing (and alarmingly prolific) Perry is an annual holiday tradition. Here, espionage mingles discreetly with classic British country-house huggermugger. Lord Victor Narraway and his wife, Lady Vespasia, are attending what should be a dreary gathering at rural Cavendish Manor with a set of mismatched guests.
But Narraway — a nominally retired intelligence officer — has business with Iris Watson-Watt, a guest who works for the intelligence agency Special Branch. They’re both engaged in a scheme to uncover a traitor by passing false information. After Watson-Watt is viciously attacked, the plan becomes urgent — but rest assured that Christmas will nonetheless be a holiday of good cheer.