cover image Dead Ground

Dead Ground

Gerald Seymour. Simon & Schuster, $25 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-684-85476-2

Seymour, whose tales of international intrigue cover much the same ground as John le Carr 's (Red Fox, Harry's Game), but are grittier and less polished, has come up with a particularly strong entry this time out. Tracy Barnes is a corporal in British military intelligence who once had an affair with a young East German who was killed on an ill-advised spying mission for the West on the north German Baltic coast. Years later, Barnes encounters the killer again. When the former Stasi official, Dieter Krause, turns up at a reception where he is being coddled by British and American intelligence for his closeness to Pyotr Rykov, a key Russian military officer, Barnes flies at him and is thrown in the brig. Enter Josh Mantle, himself a former intelligence officer whose adherence to principle cost him his career, and who is now a small-time solicitor's clerk in an outer London suburb. He takes on Tracy's case at the urging of her old mum, gets her out of jail with the aid of a double-dealing agent with his own agenda, and the two set off for Rostock to try to establish Krause's guilt in the murder, in an Eastern Germany now anxious to forget its Communist past. The trouble is that the few witnesses have all been intimidated--and Krause knows better than Barnes and Mantle just who they are, and how to reach them. It is a fast-moving mixture of chase and cat-and-mouse, set against the brilliantly observed forlorn, chilly corner of Germany as winter sets in. Mantle and Barnes are an oddly assorted pair, driven by very different motives and a sense of mutual dislike, and are in turn the pawns of a divided intelligence establishment with mixed priorities. The book is densely but clearly plotted and brings off the intricate scheming with complete conviction; only what feels like one too many dramatic reversals near the end, depriving the narrative of a likely upbeat ending, is strained. But Seymour proves there is still vigorous life in an apparently tired genre if the energy and craft are at a sufficiently high level. Agent, Peter Matson at Sterling Lord. (June)