In ARCHANGEL, the Cold War is still frigid.
Oleg Demyonov, a convicted Soviet spy, suffers a fatal heart attack in Her Majesty's prison, Wormwood Scrubs. He was soon to be exchanged for Michael Holly, and the deal is now off.
Holly, an engineer for an English manufacturing company, was recruited by MI6 to deliver a clandestine package on his next business trip to Moscow. A piece of cake, according to his Secret Intelligence Service recruiter. But Holly was caught and convicted of espionage. Now, the swap for Demyonov off, Holly is sent to a Correctional Labor Colony in the heart of the USSR for 14 years. Because Holly was born Mikhail Holovich of Russian parents who'd escaped to Britain after WWII, he's classed as a Russian - a traitor - for the purpose of imprisonment. It's to be Camp 3, Zone 1(Strict Regime).
Back in the UK, the head of MI6 charges Alan Millet, Holly's recruiter, with investigating Michael's background. Is his agent likely to crack under continued interrogation and embarrass Her Majesty's government? As Millet discovers the mettle of the man he sent into harm's way, the reader begins to feel sorry for Michael's gaolers.
In Camp 3, the resident Political Officer, KGB Captain Yuri Rudakov, sees Holly as a giant step up the career ladder if he can extract from the new prisoner the confession the Moscow bumblers couldn't get. In the meantime, Michael fires the first shot in his own personal war with a plastic baggie of machine oil, the page from a magazine, and some coal dust.
This is the best of the several Gerald Seymour thrillers I've devoured to date. The reader's sympathies are focused solely on Holly and are rarely sidetracked, though one is tempted to feel an occasional pang of compassion for Millet and (even!) Rudakov.
As I've stated before, the charm of Seymour's novels is that he doesn't deal in absolutes of right or wrong. His venues of conflict are patterned in shades of gray. As Holly rattles the bars of his cage, both he and the reader question the moral responsibility of his actions as the consequences for his fellow prisoners mounts. This is good stuff that transcends the bulk of the genre.
With delicious anticipation, I contemplate the seven other Seymour books lined up on my shelf to be read.