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Red Star Falling: A Thriller
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Red Star Falling: A Thriller

5.0 2
by Brian Freemantle

"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

In a botched escape from Russia, MI5 spy Charlie Muffin is seized by the FSB, Russia's intelligence-service successor to the infamous KGB. Charlie is


"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

In a botched escape from Russia, MI5 spy Charlie Muffin is seized by the FSB, Russia's intelligence-service successor to the infamous KGB. Charlie is Russia's long-term target in British counter-intelligence, and Moscow is determined to extract, by whatever means necessary, every secret of British---and Western---espionage over Charlie's thirty-year career.

Charlie's determined not only to resist the interrogation but to learn from it if his Russian intelligence-officer wife and their daughter escaped the trap that snared him and have reached England. He embarks on a cat-and-mouse battle of deception to convince his interrogators that they're learning what they want---or think they want---aware that one misspoken word could be fatal.

That's not Charlie's only problem. He's also trying to work out how his escape was foiled. It could not have been only due to the FSB, or his wife and daughter would have been caught as well. His MI5 boss doesn't think it was, either, and suspects treachery by Britain's external intelligence organization, MI6. To help discover the truth, Natalia, Charlie's wife, uses all the Russian tradecraft she's ever learned to help save her husband.

Red Star Falling---the third in the Red Star trilogy---continues the acclaimed series that has established Brian Freemantle as one of the world's most ingenious espionage writers.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The talky concluding volume of Freemantle’sRed Startrilogy (after 2012’s Red Star Burning) finds MI5 operative Charlie Muffin in the custody of the FSB, the KGB’s successor, which seeks “to inflict the heaviest punishment possible for the incalculable damage he’s caused them.” As he endures interrogation and torture, Muffin hopes that his wife, Natalia Fedova, a former Russian agent, and his daughter are safely on British soil—and he wonders who might have aided in his capture on the British side. Meanwhile, back in London, the Machiavellian MI6 director, Gerald Monsford, is fretting about whether his “designated assassin,” Stephan Briddle, has successfully terminated Muffin. While MI6 is trying to cover its tracks, MI5 is trying to figure everything out; while Muffin is trying to foil his captors and stay alive, Fedova is trying to save her husband. Freemantle ties up many loose ends in this complex tapestry of intrigue, but only fans of the first two Red Star books are likely to care.(June)
From the Publisher

“In Freemantle's latest sophisticated spy thriller, the Muffin man remains a compelling figure, even in convalescent mode.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The author again wickedly portrays the appalling internecine struggles between MI5 and MI6, yet retains a more sober vantage that the cold war is unending.” —Crime Book Beat

Kirkus Reviews
In the finale of Freemantle's Red Star trilogy, British agent Charlie Muffin must outwit both his Russian captors and MI6 schemers who want him dead. Making his 16th appearance in a series dating back to 1977, Muffin spends most of the book under wraps. Shot by an MI6 assassin at a Moscow airport while trying to escape Russia with his wife and young daughter, he is nursed back to health by the FSB, the agency that succeeded the KGB. They are determined to find out everything he knows, then inflict maximum punishment in retaliation for his blowing the cover of one of their prize triple agents. In a previous book, Charlie faked defecting to Russia and secretly married Natalia Fedova, the FSB operative who first debriefed him. Now, he is desperate to find out whether Natalia and little Sasha, who were at the airport with him, made it safely back to England. The wheels spin as Charlie's MI5 colleagues try to counter MI6 chief Gerald Monsford's cutthroat moves, Charlie plays games of deception with the Russians, and Natalia plots to save Charlie. A master of understatement, Freemantle can sometimes be a rather bloodless stylist with his clipped dialogue and tightly wound narrative. Charlie lives to spy another day--no spoiler alert needed there--but don't expect any kind of breathless climax. In Freemantle's latest sophisticated spy thriller, the Muffin man remains a compelling figure, even in convalescent mode.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Charlie Muffin Thrillers Series , #16
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.34(h) x 1.18(d)

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Read an Excerpt




Instinct kicked in at Charlie Muffin’s first awareness of consciousness, not opening his eyes, not moving. Alive at least. But hurt: he had to be hurt, although there was no pain. Shots. He remembered several shots, and falling but no pain then; no pain now, either. Just numbness. He was numb, no feeling in his left side, and there was a strangely tight thickness on his right that he could feel. Bandaged. He was bandaged, his chest encased. Why? If he’d been shot, why didn’t it hurt? A hospital, he supposed: he was definitely under bedcovering. What sort of hospital? Very cautiously, knowing the sheets and blankets would cover the movement, Charlie edged his right hand sideways, almost at once detecting unsecured restraining straps: two at least, each with heavy metal fixings against the bed frame. There would be more that he couldn’t reach. At best an infirmary operated exclusively by Russia’s international intelligence service, the Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, or FSB. At worst a psychiatric facility. Before the alleged end of communism in Russia in 1991, psychiatric institutions and their mind-destroying expertise were favourite KGB weapons against its prisoners and dissidents.

The FSB, the KGB’s successor, wouldn’t interfere with his mind, Charlie tried to reassure himself. Before they did that they’d drain its memory of every particle of every scrap of information embedded from twenty-five years of front-line espionage service in MI5, Britain’s counter-espionage service. Or would they? They’d want to inflict the heaviest punishment possible for the incalculable damage he’d caused them.

Wherever he was, there’d be room-encompassing cameras, the fish-eye lenses fitted with infrared darkness penetration: maybe sound detectors or someone physically in the room. But he needed to assess his surroundings. He kept his eyes as narrowed as possible—the eyes of unconscious people were frequently half open—but didn’t move his head. Charlie’s impression was of near darkness, the room illuminated solely by two permanent low-emission night lights. There were two disinterested interior-ward guards at the half-opened, metal-backed door, in soft-voice conversation he couldn’t hear with unseen people, possibly more guards, outside. The uniforms were more medical than military.

It had to be a psychiatric hospital, Charlie accepted, a different numbness moving through him. To do to him what they wanted, whenever they wanted. Before they took his sanity would he be able to answer the one and only question that mattered to him?

*   *   *

In the tree-bedecked LEGOLAND castle at London’s Vauxhall Cross that is the headquarters of MI6, the UK’s secret intelligence service, Director Gerald Monsford’s imagery was of being in a room in which the ceiling and floor as well as the walls were contracting all around him, crushing from every direction his chances of survival.

He’d needed Charlie Muffin dead, not just wounded, for that survival: that was his hope, that Stephan Briddle, his designated assassin, would have succeeded and then fortunately been killed himself, neatly solving almost all his problems. Just as urgent—maybe more so, in the immediate short term—was locating the other two officers who’d been with Briddle. There was no reference to them in what Moscow had so far released and no response yet to his frantic embassy enquiries, which gave Monsford the straw-clutching hope that they’d escaped the shooting and would be returning to London. It was imperative he got to them first. So where were they? Why hadn’t they made even the briefest of reassuring contact?

His threadbare professional existence depended upon Stephan Briddle’s having withheld the assassination order from those other two, which regulations strictly decreed the man should have done. But regulations also dictated that the Director was never contacted at home, which Briddle had ignored, ironically giving Monsford the escape he was contemplating now. If Briddle had stayed silent and had managed to rehearse the other two, he might just be safe. Able, even, to overcome all the other things that had gone so disastrously wrong and endangered his intention to control not just MI6 but MI5 as well and establish himself as the country’s intelligence supremo.

He needed help, Monsford conceded: people—a person—he could trust, as much as he trusted anyone. But he didn’t have such a person. James Straughan would have been the one: known how to find out more before the impending confrontations. He could at least have sketched a ground plan with his operational director if the stupid bastard, who’d shown no sign of a breakdown, hadn’t committed suicide and brought about the current internal headquarters-security investigation. That, by itself, would normally have dominated Monsford’s priorities. Now it became one of several, all potentially professionally fatal.

There was, of course, Rebecca Street. But while he’d already established his newly appointed deputy as a satisfactorily inventive mistress, he wasn’t any longer sure of her absolute loyalty, despite her inclusion, along with Straughan, in the assassination discussions. It was the very fact of her participation in those ambiguous, innuendo-cloaked exchanges that was belatedly causing Monsford’s doubts. In the days immediately prior to Straughan’s suicide, Monsford had isolated a closeness between the two which unsettled him.

Was his fragile escape plan possible? He had to make it so. Like a frightened child whistling in the dark—and totally without embarrassment in his empty office—Monsford, who feigned a classical education by quoting Shakespeare with monotonous frequency, recited his favourite aphorism—Am I politic? Am I subtle? Am I a Machiavel?

‘Yes I am,’ he answered, still aloud.

*   *   *

‘It’s been officially upgraded to crisis,’ announced MI5 Director-General Aubrey Smith, a quiet-spoken man whose uncaring dishevelment betrayed the university professorship he’d held before his intelligence appointment. ‘What’s the practical update?’

‘Charlie’s alive,’ declared John Passmore, a former SAS colonel seconded to MI5 after losing an arm in the first days of the Iraq invasion in 2003. ‘The confirmation from the Russian Foreign Ministry is that he’s wounded, shot, but there are no details of how badly. Four died in the airport shoot-out: two MI6 men, an uninvolved arab who was in front of Charlie and a militia security officer. We don’t have a definitive number of wounded. The estimate is twelve, at least half of them seriously. We have to expect more deaths. I’ve forwarded to the emergency committee the very preliminary report from Ian Flood, who headed our extraction team.’

‘You sure Flood’s sound on everything he saw?’ asked Jane Ambersom, the deputy director.

‘One hundred percent sound,’ insisted Passmore. ‘Flood is definite he saw the gun in Briddle’s hand.’

‘Firing at whom?’ broke in Jane Ambersom, tensed forward in her seat.

‘Charlie,’ declared the operations director, positively.

Silence settled in the suite, Aubrey Smith’s concentration appearing to be upon a tandem-linked London barge making its arthritic way down the Thames. Eventually he said, ‘We’ve got a credible, trained witness to a British MI6 officer shooting a British MI5 officer with the clear intent to kill.’

‘Yes,’ confirmed Passmore, reaching across to his empty left side, an unconscious habit familiar to the other two.

‘Are we going to make the direct accusation against Monsford today?’ asked Jane Ambersom, who’d initially seen her manipulated transfer from MI6 deputy to the parallel position in MI5 as an escape to the safer side of the internecine war between the two intelligence directors but wasn’t totally sure now that she was on the winning side.

‘No,’ decided Smith, to the visible surprise of the other two. ‘When we release what I wish was a real trapdoor I want to be sure that Gerald Monsford hangs by the neck until he’s dead.’

*   *   *

‘We realized you’d recovered consciousness an hour ago but I guess it was earlier than that, declared a voice Charlie instantly recognized. ‘Why don’t you open your eyes so we can talk, Charlie? That’s what you’ve got to learn now, how to talk about everything I want to hear.’

Mikhail Guzov, the FSB general whom Charlie had outwitted during his most recent assignment, smiled down at Charlie as he finally opened his eyes. Guzov was a tall man of pronounced ugliness, thin to the point of appearing skeletal. Charlie had months before determined that the man compensated for his physical appearance by dressing immaculately in suits hand tailored for him, which Charlie hadn’t believed possible in Moscow. Today’s was grey striped, Charlie saw, looking at Guzov at the side of his bed. ‘You’re certainly not who I expected to see.’

‘There’s going to be so much you didn’t expect,’ said Guzov, grimacing an intended smile of satisfaction. ‘Who would have imagined things turning out like this?’

Charlie was able to look properly sideways to where his left side was virtually embalmed in bandages. ‘It looks bad.’

The grimace this time came with a snorted laugh. ‘The bullet missed every bone, anything important and stopped just short of your left shoulder: all you’re suffering is extensive bruising and shock.’

‘What about the bullet?’

‘So close to the surface it popped out like a bean from its pod.’

‘Sounds like I was lucky.’

‘We’ve got all the time in the world for you to decide if you’re lucky or not, Charlie. I really don’t think you’re going to feel lucky by the time it all ends.’


Copyright © 2013 by Brian Freemantle

Meet the Author

BRIAN FREEMANTLE is the author of more than thirty books, which have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. These include fifteen previous novels in the Charlie Muffin series, most recently Red Star Burning. 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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