cover image Bomb Grade

Bomb Grade

Brian Freemantle. St. Martin's Press, $25.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-312-14565-1

Charlie Muffin, the freewheeling, irreverent loose cannon of British Intelligence, returns in Freemantle's (No Time for Heroes) latest. Expecting to be downsized, Charlie is sent instead to Moscow as liaison to the Russian Interior Ministry in its attempt to control the theft and export of nuclear material. Corruption and organized crime are rampant (""This is Capone country, reincarnated,"" comments an old Russian hand), and Charlie's job is not easy. Traditional Russian bureaucratic ineptness feeds the corruption, which is compounded by infighting among the Russians, British and Americans, and raised exponentially by the fratricidal Russian mafia. Charlie's task is complicated by his past: heading an anti-corruption unit is his ex-lover Natalia. Years before, as the KGB agent who mentored Charlie when he pretended to defect, Natalia fell in love with the British spy and risked her life trying to track him down in London. On that visit, she conceived a daughter, now five, whom the remorseful Charlie has seen only once, in a photograph. Charlie's personal life gets put on hold, however, when the mafia steals a rail shipment of 250 kilos of plutonium. In an effort to retrieve the plutonium or at least to prevent its shipment to Iraq, Charlie goes undercover as a player in Moscow, ""a grey, gritty Mafia mecca of the soulless preying on the helpless."" Although experienced readers may sniff out an unsuspected top villain, the story pounds along at a terrific, intelligent clip up to an explosive climax and a bittersweet ending that caps some of the best post-Cold War spy writing around. (Mar.)