Red Star Burning

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A Barry Award Finalist for Best Thriller

Britain’s MI5 tolerates Charlie Muffin because he’s their best field agent. What none of his colleagues knows, though, is that he is married to Natalia Fedova, a colonel in the FSB, the Russian intelligence successor to the KGB. It’s a secret that could land her in front of a firing squad, and him in jail for life. Worst of all, their daughter would then end up in a Russian state ...

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A Barry Award Finalist for Best Thriller

Britain’s MI5 tolerates Charlie Muffin because he’s their best field agent. What none of his colleagues knows, though, is that he is married to Natalia Fedova, a colonel in the FSB, the Russian intelligence successor to the KGB. It’s a secret that could land her in front of a firing squad, and him in jail for life. Worst of all, their daughter would then end up in a Russian state orphanage.

But a frantic call from Natalia has brought their secret out, and Charlie must lead a combined MI5/MI6 mission to rescue her. He soon realizes that his higher-ups have other priorities than his family’s safety. Charlie will have to outwit not just the Russians but his own government as well to protect the lives of his wife and child.

Clever, unpredictable, and exciting, Red Star Burning shows why Brian Freemantle has been widely praised as one of the greatest living espionage novelists.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Freemantle’s dry satirical wit, aimed directly at the pomposity of intelligence bureaucrats and politicians, lifts his 16th thriller featuring spy Charlie Muffin (after 2010’s Red Star Rising). Muffin goes undercover in Russia to extract his own wife—their marriage has been a secret up until now—and return with her to London. His wife, Natalia, a colonel in Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB, has long wanted to defect, and her knowledge of her country’s secret affairs would be a huge intelligence coup for Charlie’s employer, MI5. Meanwhile, Charlie’s bosses, led by the unctuous Gerald Monsford, have their own extraction operation going on, and the unwitting Charlie is merely bait to distract the Russians’ attention. Though the plot suffers from a surfeit of talking and a paucity of action, Muffin’s a smooth operator, who with any luck will take on a more exciting challenge in his next outing. (June)
From the Publisher
Praise for Red Star Burning:

“This is le Carré territory, to be sure—think The Russia House (1989)—and Freemantle hits every note perfectly in dramatizing the fundamental conflict between individual values and institutional machinations. On top of that, he constructs an airtight plot, full of backpedaling twists, that leads to a stunning cliffhanger of a finale.” —Booklist (starred review)

“A terrific story. … At least a double cross is on, if not a triple, and there’s genuine suspense in the unfolding origami.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Freemantle has written a tense and entertaining scramble.” —Library Journal

Red Star Burning is an excellent book on several levels. Freemantle does a great job of developing the espionage plot, and it's fascinating to see the conflicts not only between the UK and Russia but the political maneuvering between MI5 and MI6. … Freemantle does a wonderful job of blending the interesting world of spy tradecraft with matters of the heart.”—Reviewing the Evidence

Praise for Brian Freemantle:

“Freemantle, certainly one of the top espionage writers today, may very well be one of the best of all time.” —-Booklist

“Praised as more than a match for John le Carré, Freemantle will not disappoint readers.” —-Library Journal

“If Brian Freemantle isn’t the best writer of spy novels around, he’s certainly, along with John le Carré, in the top two. . . . It doesn’t get much better than this.” —-The Philadelphia Inquirer

“His thrillers . . . are both sleek and tough, filled with gritty characters and superb plotting.” —-Chicago Tribune

“Impossible to put down . . .  marvelous . . . real genius.” —-The Washington Post

“Wonderful . . . Freemantle holds the reader in his thrall with masterful, insightful writing.” —-Orlando Sentinel

“If you like to read about a protagonist who, like a master chess player, seems to be think three or four moves ahead of everyone, then the Charlie M series is for you. It is deliciously complex.” —-Deadly Pleasures

Library Journal
In Freemantle's latest Cold War thriller, British MI5 field agent Charlie Muffin's (Red Star Rising) hidden life is finally exposed. Secretly married to Natalia Fedova, a colonel in the Russian intelligence agency FSB, with whom he has a daughter, Charlie finds his cover blown when Natalia calls him begging for help. No longer trusted by his old colleagues, Charlie is taken into custody and interrogated. He's desperate to escape and rescue his wife and child from the hit he knows the Russian government has put on them. VERDICT Freemantle has written a tense and entertaining scramble. Charlie runs various scenarios in his head to rescue his family, and the intensity of his internal struggle raises this novel a cut above standard espionage fare. Newcomers might become confused by the large cast of characters, and the ending implies more to come. For Charlie Muffin fans, this is still worth a shot.
Kirkus Reviews
A talky thriller of rogues repeating half-truths in the hopes of manufacturing reality; a terrific story starring Freemantle's Charlie Muffin. Freemantle's Muffin man returns for the 17th time, and the story seems to take up where his Red Star Rising (2010, etc.) left off. Charlie Muffin is in a safe house, out of the game, aching to return. Turns out Muffin has a wife and child in Russia. His wife, a Federal Security Service agent, charged with debriefing him after his faked defection, fell for him instead. After persuading his MI5 handlers that his wife and child are worth saving, Muffin makes himself indispensable to the team tasked with saving them. But there is no shortage of enemies, as many at home in England as in Russia. At least a double cross is on, if not a triple, and there's genuine suspense in the unfolding origami. The book's principal pleasure is the survey of mendacity in all its forms, from the self-serving, Shakespeare-spouting director of one of several intelligence services with skin in the game, to Cabinet Secretary Sir Archibald Bland. Even if the action is typical of the genre, the characters' motives have an atypical excess of plausibility: These folks operate and backbite in a believable milieu of toxic office politics. If only Freemantle had the same confidence in his readers. The majority of the book is dialogue, and almost every speech appears in the equivalent of a color-coded thought bubble: Smith "echoed"; Bland "refused"; Palmer "stumbled." This is a source of frustration for those of us who, completely engaged, want to intuit the tone of speeches that might be arch, but just might be heartfelt, the speaker actually believing what turns out to be utterly false a few pages later. But to his fans, this is no more than a quibble: Muffin is back, and his followers will herald his return.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250006363
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/19/2012
  • Series: Charlie Muffin Thrillers Series , #15
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 735,603
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

BRIAN FREEMANTLE is the author more than thirty books, which have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. These include fourteen previous novels in the Charlie Muffin series, most recently Red Star Rising. He has been foreign editor and chief foreign correspondent for the London Daily Mail and foreign correspondent for the London Daily Sketch, among others. He lives in England.

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Read an Excerpt

Red Star Burning

A Thriller
By Brian Freemantle

Thomas Dunne Books

Copyright © 2012 Brian Freemantle
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781250006363

“Kill myself?” echoed Charlie, derision and astonishment combined.
“That’s what I think you’ll end up doing.”
“Bollocks,” rejected Charlie. At the back—too often in the forefront—of his mind had always hovered the expectation of dying. But violently: from a breath-sucking assassin’s bullet or the burn of a back-alley knife or a shattering explosion. But never of killing himself, not even while confronting his now fossilized existence.
“It would be understandable,” sympathized the small, hunched psychiatrist, George Cowley. “You’ve spent almost thirty years at the front end of British intelligence, always on the edge. Now you’re blown, in a Protection Program with a new identity, a retirement salary, a safe house, and a protection regime. All of which you’re refusing to acknowledge or observe. From which the only conclusion is that you’re either inviting Russian assassination or intending to kill yourself.”
“Bollocks,” repeated Charlie. He had to do better than this: convince this asshole of an MI5 psychiatrist that he’d got it all wrong. As he, in turn, had got it all wrong, staging an intentionally deceiving performance for the too easily detected minders during his limited excursions from the safe house. The internal cameras and listening devices would be recording everything of this performance, too, he accepted.
“It would have been easier for you, if maybe not for them, if you’d had a family: a wife, children, to fill the emptiness within you,” Cowley pressed on. “But you haven’t, have you, Charlie? All you’ve ever had is the job and now you don’t have that anymore.”
Wrong again! agonized Charlie. He did have a wife. And a daughter. A family still in Russia that no one knew about. Nor could they ever know, because Natalia Fedova was a senior officer in the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, the intelligence agency of the Russian Federation that his own MI5 service believed was determined to assassinate him.
“You expect me to adjust in five minutes to all that’s happened!” demanded Charlie, discomfited at his inadequate reply.
Cowley, who had the highest security clearance, tapped Charlie’s file on the table between them. “I’ve read every word that’s in here: know everything you’ve done. And having read it I’d expect you to understand the very real danger you’re in and accept all the protection that’s being offered.”
What danger was Natalia facing after his most recent Moscow assignment? Charlie asked himself, as he had repeatedly over the past three months. If he was blown, as MI5 believed him to be, the search might stretch back to his phoney Moscow defection, when Natalia Fedova had been his interrogator. Charlie had never been totally satisfied then she’d sanitized their subsequent relationship from what then would have been KGB records. “I’m not convinced the risk is as great as everyone believes it to be.”
“That’s for the Director-General to decide, not you. And that decision’s been made.”
“As yours has been made,” Charlie fought back. “And it’s wrong.”
“You ever kill anyone, Charlie?” demanded the psychiatrist, unexpectedly.
“Never intentionally.” That was debatable, thought Charlie, uneasy at the prescience of the other man. Charlie hoped there was nothing in the bulky personnel dossier with which Cowley could catch him out.
“Didn’t it ever worry you, people getting killed? Assassinated?” persisted the other man.
“It didn’t happen often and when it did—or had to—it was part of the job: I never pulled a trigger.” That reply was a cop-out, Charlie acknowledged, but they’d been talking of death and dying for the past thirty minutes and he was fed up at the verbal ping-pong.
“Could you have pulled a trigger, if you’d had to?”
“I’d been trained to that level, as a last resort: I never got to that resort.” Charlie was surprised at the sudden although easily suppressed anger, an emotion he hadn’t experienced for a long time because it indicated lack of control, which was always dangerous professionally.
“Do you still think you could pull the trigger, if you had to?”
“Not with the barrel against my own head, no,” refused Charlie, guessing the direction in which Cowley was leading.
“You sure about that?” demanded the psychiatrist. “Or are you pissed off that the rest of your life is going to be spent incarcerated in security-covered, audio-and-CCTV-equipped safe houses, forever buried deep within a protection program, never ever able again to meet or speak to anyone you once knew?”
“I’ll get there,” responded Charlie, dismissively.
“You’re not even trying,” accused Cowley, dismissive in return. “You’re supposed to have adopted the new name—the entirely new identity—you’ve been allocated and you haven’t. You’re supposed never to establish patterns—never the same restaurants, never the same pub, never the same cinema, never the same route or transport to the same supermarket—and you haven’t. You’re supposed to alter the way you dress, alter as much of your appearance as possible, and you haven’t: you’re even still wearing those spread-apart Hush Puppies about to fall off your awkward feet. As part of that appearance change—in your particular case, all the more essential because of the target you now are—you’re supposed seriously to consider surgical facial reconstruction and you haven’t bothered to attend three specialist appointments to discuss it.”
“I told you I’d get round to it!” Lame again, Charlie recognized.
“How often, since you’ve been in the program, have you seriously considered suicide?”
“Since entering the protection program I have never, ever, considered suicide,” replied Charlie, enunciating each word for emphasis.
“I don’t believe you,” declared Cowley. “It’s a fucking awful existence. I’ve never had a protected patient who hasn’t thought of taking his or her own life.”
“How many actually did?”
“Six,” Cowley came back at once.
“I’m not going to become your seventh!” assured Charlie.
“I know you’re not,” agreed the psychiatrist. “I’m going to put you on suicide watch to ensure you don’t.”
Fuck it, thought Charlie. He had to hurry to reach Natalia in time.
*   *   *
“Defect to the British!” exclaimed Elana, her voice breaking. “You can’t … we can’t…” She tried to continue but couldn’t, her mind seized by the enormity of what Radtsic had told her, her eyes fixed farther ahead of the embankment road along which they were walking, the river-bordered British embassy in the distance. “We can’t … you’re the virtual head of Russian intelligence … it’s unthinkable.…” She tried again: “What about Andrei?”
“It’ll be easy with Andrei at the Sorbonne,” insisted Radtsic, whose heavy mustache, gray like his thick hair, and heavy, indulged body had in the past made him the butt of jokes about his physical resemblance to Stalin. “Paris is closer to London than we are here in Moscow. The moment we run he’ll be picked up and brought to us there. We’ll be together and we’ll be safe.”
“It’s too much for me to understand,” protested the woman. In contrast to her husband, who was fifteen years her senior, Elana was a slim, even elegant woman committed to her career as professor of physics at Moscow University. “My work … what about my work … I mean … I don’t know.”
“I can’t go without you. You’d be arrested: dismissed from the university.” Radtsic was agonized by the conversation, his whole body clammy with perspiration.
“I didn’t mean I wouldnt come with you. I was thinking of everything I would be abandoning … leaving behind. Are you sure, really sure, that you’re being targeted?”
“I found two listening devices in my office today, one actually in the telephone handset, the other in the base of the desk light: that’s why we’re walking—so we can talk—out in the open like this,” disclosed Radtsic. “And today I was told there’s no reason for my attending the quarterly operational review, which I’ve done ever since I was appointed deputy chairman: actually headed more sessions than the chairman himself.”
“Oh my God!” said Elana, who was a devoted churchgoer. “It’s true, isn’t it? You’re going to be purged.”
“No, I’m not,” insisted Radtsic, defiantly. “I’m going to get out.”

Copyright © 2012 by Brian Freemantle


Excerpted from Red Star Burning by Brian Freemantle Copyright © 2012 by Brian Freemantle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2014

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  • Posted August 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    There is a plot overview above, so I limit my review to my thoug

    There is a plot overview above, so I limit my review to my thoughts on the novel. Red Star Rising received a rave review from me, but Red Star Burning will have to settle for a very good rating, but no rave. I found the plot a bit hard to follow as I don't think the author gave us very clear information. (The book itself, with its smaller pages and tiny print didn't help.) Nonetheless, he creates such a real picture of the bureaucracy in London as stumbling over itself while everyone covers their backs and tries to stab the others. We really do care about Charlie Muffin and admire his adeptness at getting himself out of jams. How he can do so with one London branch out to kill him and the other wavering in its support is hard enough, but he also has the Russians on his heels. A couple of the plot twists are hard to swallow- the Straughan twist, the Jane Amberson/Barry Ellis distraction. There is plenty of tension throughout the story, enough to keep you reading. I like the way the author wound up both extractions, and yes, that creates the ground for a sequel, which I will look forward to.

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