The Fall of Moscow Station
A novel by Mark Henshaw
Book review by Jules Brenner
Touchstone, released 2/16/16, 352 pp., $26.00
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If my reaction to Henshaw's first novel, "Cold Shot" (2014) gave me the impression that we had an important new presence in espionage literature, then this, his third book, removes any doubt.

His spy thriller series centers on the adventures of two CIA agents that constitute the anti-terrorism "Red Cell," Jonathan "Jon" Burke and Kyra Stryker. Other, similar, constructions in mystery fiction don't usually waver from the basic setup but, here, Henshaw, who casts his plot with unusual authority from his experience as a retired ace CIA analyst, takes half the team almost totally off the grid and turns this into a starring role for the femme of the partnership and concentrates on what she can do to put the screws to a very dangerous Russian strongman and his disastrous plot.

That would be General Arkady Lavrov, head of Russia's military intelligence service (the GRU) and chief of the Foundation for Advanced Research (FAR). Wily and psychopathic, this is a man who will do anything in his power to hurt the U.S., like marketing nuclear weaponry to our worst enemy nations. He also hungers to gain the advantage over Anatoly Grigoriyev, leader of his competitive agency, the Kremlin's FSB (formerly the KGB).

While Lavrov is working on a top secret hi-tech weapons deal for Assad and the Syrians, trouble is brewing in Washington, DC. that will give him new options for both of his endeavors. High-level CIA agent Alden Maines has developed a deep hatred for his agency. When he's passed over for advancement, he hits his boiling point and begins a campaign of payback. He turns into a mole for Russia, his first move being to the General, to sell out our spies at the Moscow Station for bundles of cash.

But Lavrov sees the American defecter's situation and usefulness through his own dark lens. He starts by revealing Maines' betrayal to the world press and ordering torture to extract intel from his captive instead of payoffs. Soon after Kathy Cooke, Deputy Director of National Intelligence and her subordinates ponder the action they must take to save the lives of their Russian assets, a dead male body with Russian military tattoos is discovered in a lake outside Berlin. Kathy puts her Red Cell, Jon and Kyra, on a plane to Germany to get some understanding of the strange, unexpected events.

Has the mole's intel already caused the loss of an American asset? Has a new cold war been set into motion by this Russian general?

Kyra, a goddess with training in martial arts and tactical combat and an analyst in training, will soon find herself alone, in Russia, in Moscow and, in a move of brazen courage, the Kremlin itself. There, she stares Lavrov down in a first attempt to get some traction on who's calling the shots on the scandal rocking the agency. When Lavrov realizes who this sharp lady is and what she's doing in his country, he sends his team of crack Russian bulldogs out to find her, blocking all possibility of an exfiltration with her still hospitalized partner, Jon.

What makes Henshaw's writing so interesting is that, as a decorated CIA analyst, his writing is straightforward, authoritative, and loaded with the kind of invention that comes from someone who knows the territory and the kind of people who dot this landscape. The voice is that of someone who's "been there." And, villains and minor characters get their due dimensions of humanity as well. To wit:

In a scene when Kyra's survival depends on getting money through the net that's been set for her, a young diplomat becomes the means of transit. He's assigned to walk home to his apartment in his usual manner, his laptop bag stuffed with euros slung over a shoulder. A knock on the door and in walks this babe. Kyra. After she checks the packets of cash she asks for a shower. As she leaves the room...

"The man's heart soared and sank at the same time. Maybe he'd applied for the wrong career after all, he thought. Delivering huge piles of money to strange and attractive women who showed up in his apartment, reading his mind through his body language and asking for his services and amenities? He could get used to that."

Is Mark Henshaw the Lee Child of spy fiction? A case can be made.


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