When hardboiled CIA agent Nathan Colby meets museum curator Kate Tynan, sparks fly immediately in this outstanding 1980s vintage spy thriller. Human trafficking, Cold War-era Soviet operatives, and a mysterious murder add spice to the new, unlikely partnership of Colby and Ms. Tynan.
Not since John Wayne tussled on the village green with Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man has there been a more appealing pairing of characters. Only this time, the action takes place in and around York, England, and the barbs that are thrown back and forth between Nathan and Kate all take place in pursuit of the puzzle behind Varga’s Passage.
Throw in an ongoing running commentary of a momentous cricket Test Match between England and Australia, and you have the makings of a fascinating, offbeat tale that will keep you turning pages and wondering what in the world will happen next.
It all starts when Colby’s predecessor is found dead in a Leeds slum, and Colby, in pursuit of clues to the homicide, meets Kate in the museum there. He starts calling her “Honey,” and she reacts unfavorably to the brash, but handsome Yank. He feels an attraction to her as well. But you’d never know it to listen to their verbal sparring, which carries on even during the most harrowing chase scenes and calamitous situations that crop up as the plot progresses.
Plenty of colorful characters also emerge as Kate and Nathan go about their investigation. One, called Nasty Norman, has a tale of his own to tell about his house, which is a waystation for illegal Pakastani immigrants. And, a tweedy matron in York turns out to be anything but helpful in their quest, rendering a peaceful visit to the Minster into a life-and-death struggle.
Meanwhile, Soviet agents Pavel and Yevgeny, charged with the elimination of Colby, are having a devil of a time discharging their dastardly duty.
On and on the race continues across the Yorkshire moors and down to the seashore, as first one Russian hit man — er, person — after another tries to kill Colby. Kate chips in handily from time to time, also dispensing a wealth of Yorkshire lore along the way.
What’s the Endgame? Colby wonders. Why are all these people so intent on putting him out of commission — permanently? And, what does Varga’s Passage have to do with it?
Five stars to this imaginative spy thriller. You’ll be scratching your head as often as you hold your sides from laughing on the way to the novel’s surprising finish.
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