Red Star Rising: A Thriller [NOOK Book]


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 ...

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Red Star Rising: A Thriller

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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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429938150
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/3/2010
  • Series: Charlie Muffin Thrillers , #14
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 488,780
  • File size: 340 KB

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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CHARLIE MUFFIN DECIDED IT WAS A TOSS-UP BETWEEN THE British embassy’s third secretary or the Russian Foreign Ministry official who’d be the first to throw up or simply faint. Or messily do both, not necessarily in any order. Charlie didn’t feel that good himself. It had been a busy, largely sleepless forty-eight hours since his emergency London assigning, and he’d never liked mortuaries anyway. The unease wasn’t helped by a mortuary assistant four autopsy tables away, munching a meat-overflowing sandwich. The grayness of the sandwich filling matched the color of the surrounding corpses, including that of the man around whom they were grouped.
From the size of the entry wound in the base of the skull, Charlie calculated the bullet was from a Russian-manufactured 9mm Makarov, its tip cut into a dum-dum cross to flatten on initial impact in order to take away on exit the entire face, including both jawbones. The fingertips on the right hand had individually been burned away, either by acid or heat. The pathologist, a fat, dough-faced man who hadn’t been introduced by name, declared the amputation of the left arm to have been a surgical operation, carried out several years earlier. “But not particularly well,” he added, professionally critical. “A hurried job.”
“It’s obviously a gangland execution,” announced the only Russian whose name Charlie knew so far. Sergei Romanovich Pavel had been identified as a senior investigator from Moscow’s Organized Crime Bureau.
Charlie looked around the group, waiting for the question. When no one asked he said, “Why’s it obvious?”
“It’s a trademark killing, the way they always do it. Bullet in the back of the head, after the torture punishment for what ever he did wrong,” lectured Pavel. “You are. . . . ?”
“London-based embassy security,” said Charlie, wondering which of the men facing him across the metal slab was from the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, or FSB, which replaced the internal directorate of the former KGB. The presence of the internal intelligence agency was inevitable after the finding of a murdered man in the garden of the British embassy; Charlie guessed it to be the thin, balding man holding back from any part in the stilted discussion.
The bespectacled, sparse-haired Pavel smiled, patronizingly. “There is, regrettably, a lot of organized crime in the city. We’ve come to recognize their methodology.”
“He was very obviously tortured,” endorsed the pudgy pathologist, pointing toward the murdered man’s clothes bundled into a see-through plastic sack. “The jacket and shirt are clotted with blood. The bullet would have smashed most of the teeth, making an identification difficult from dental records. But I’d guess most of the teeth were pulled out while he was still alive, to cause that degree of blood loss. Probably a lot more was done to him, as well. They usually take the eyes out . . .” He went back to the body. “See the ligature bruising on the wrist, as well as his ankles and across the chest? That’s where he would have thrashed in agony against what ever they restrained him with . . .”
It was the Russian Foreign Ministry man whose stomach erupted. The man managed to reach a deep-basined sink before being violently and repeatedly sick, groaning as he retched. Jeremy Dawkins, the embassy diplomat, looked determinedly away, his lips tightly clamped.
Charlie said: “Didn’t you tell us at the beginning that all the labels and makers’ marks have been removed from the clothes?”
“That’s why they’re bagged up. They’re clearly Russian and I thought they’d be needed for forensic examination.”
Turning back to Pavel, Charlie said, “Is that another gangland trademark? Removing all manufacturers’ details from the clothing, as well as taking away the face and burning off the finger ends to prevent any identification?”
“They don’t usually do that,” conceded the Russian detective.
Going back to the medical examiner, Charlie said, “How do you think the fingertips were destroyed?”
“Forced over a flame or a hot plate,” suggested the man. “Acid, possibly.”
“Are any of the fingers broken?” persisted Charlie.
The pathologist frowned, needing to go back to his notes. “No, they weren’t.”
“So, we’ve got a body bruised by his binding from the thrashing agony of what was being done to him, but without the fingers being broken where he tried to keep his hand away from a flame or hot plate?” said Charlie. “Which would, by the way, have burned the torturers trying to hold the fingers over the heat.”
“Yes,” allowed the doctor.
“I don’t think his fingers were held over anything hot,” argued Charlie. “I think the tips were burned off by an acidlike agent; that’s why the wrist is so marked, more deeply than anywhere else.”
“Are you going to tell us the point of this cross-examination?” demanded Pavel.
“Looks to me as if a very determined effort was made to conceal who the man was,” said Charlie.
“Which we will do our utmost to discover,” promised the man whom Charlie guessed to be from the FSB.
“The body was found in the grounds of the British embassy,” reminded Charlie. “Technically, the embassy and the grounds in which it is built is British, not Russian territory. This is a murder committed on British soil.”
“I don’t think we need to become distracted by diplomatic technicalities,” broke in Dawkins.
“But if we are being technical, I am not entirely satisfied that the murder was committed on British soil,” challenged the pathologist. “From my preliminary examination at the murder scene, I’d say the body was dumped in the grounds after the man was shot: there wasn’t sufficient blood or physical debris around him. And if he were killed elsewhere it is a Russian investigation.”
“Surely, until it actually becomes an investigation, it should be a joint operation?” pressed Charlie.
The ashen-faced ministry official came back into the group. He said, “I’m sorry . . . I’ve never been in a place like this before.” To Charlie he said, “Every cooperation will be extended. It’s a very unpleasant business. Your country’s need to be involved is most regrettable.”
Not regretted by me, thought Charlie. He smiled at the Russian detective. “I look forward to our working together. I presume you’re based at Ulitsa Petrovka?”
Pavel frowned. “You know Moscow that well?”
Charlie felt a spurt of annoyance at his smart-assed mention of the location of the organized crime bureau headquarters. It gave them a pointer they didn’t need to have and which he hadn’t intended to give them. But if the thin-faced, balding man was FSB, then a background intelligence check was automatic. With no alternative, Charlie said, “I’ve served a posting here before.”
“Which explains your excellent Russian,” said the man, smilingly, whom Charlie suspected was FSB.
It didn’t necessarily, but Charlie was anxious not to stray any further. “And why I was seconded here specifically to inquire into this murder,” he said. He looked between Pavel and the medical examiner. “I’d welcome a full copy of your pathology report, including a skin residue analysis to establish if the fingers were burned by acid. And any forensic findings from the examination of the clothes. There’ll be toxicology and stomach contents analyses, too, won’t there?”
“Of course,” said Pavel, tightly.
The pathologist nodded, but didn’t speak.
“I don’t think you handled that very well back there,” complained Dawkins, in the car ride back to the embassy. He was a very tall, angularly featured man who found it difficult to keep his fair hair from flopping forward over his forehead. The public school accent was sharp enough to cut glass.
“How’s that?” Charlie sighed. How was it he always seemed to get under people’s noses, like a bad smell?
“Our government doesn’t want the bodies of murdered Russians strewn around its embassy grounds.”
“I didn’t leave it there.”
“Don’t be fatuous!” protested the man, whom Charlie estimated to be at least twenty years his junior. “What I mean is that it would have been better to have gone along with what the man Pavel suggested: that it’s a Russian murder of a Russian national and better left to their people to handle, distancing ourselves as quickly as possible.”
“No it wouldn’t,” rejected Charlie, curtly. “I’ve been specifically seconded here to ensure the British government isn’t sucked into an as-yet-unknown embarrassment or difficulty. And I’m not going to succeed in doing that by sitting on my ass, waiting for other people to tell me only what they want me to hear.”
“What sort of difficulty could there possibly be, apart from his being found where he was?” demanded the younger man.
“You’re assuming he’s Russian because the clothes are Russian. What if he turns out to be British?”
“What!” Dawkins turned across the car in his alarm, swerving it out of the lane.
“Easy!” said Charlie, calmly. “I’m just floating a ‘what if.’ Trying to suggest why we’ve got to be involved from the inside, not kept outside.”
“You certainly worked hard to ensure that,” criticized the diplomat.
“How the hell could I talk to people without knowing their names and where, hopefully, to get hold of them?” asked Charlie, impatiently. He’d ended the mortuary encounter by insisting upon the identity and contact number of every Russian in the room, even the Foreign Ministry official. “You don’t ask, you don’t get—one of the truisms of life.”
“I need to be kept fully informed of everything you do, everyone with whom you get involved,” demanded Dawkins. “I want to be told everything you have in mind, well before you take any action. Those are the ambassador’s orders: I’m your channel to him, at all times.”
Bollocks, thought Charlie. “I know the rules.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you’d served here before?”
“I’ve scarcely had time to tell anyone anything. It was a long time ago.” Five years wasn’t that long, Charlie mentally corrected himself. Sasha would be eight now. Upon reflection he didn’t have too much to worry about what ever checks Mikhail Guzov, the correctly guessed FSB officer, made about him through their internal intelligence records. He knew Natalia had sanitized both their files. It was even possible that his records wouldn’t have been kept by the FSB. Hers would still exist because Natalia had been retained after the KGB changeover and was still a serving officer, although he didn’t know in what division. They’d never talked about their separate intelligence functions, apart from their initial, professional encounter.
“How long were you here?”
“About four years,” said Charlie, intentionally vague.
“A difficult time?”
“You know I can’t give you any indication of my work. But I can tell you we certainly didn’t find any dead bodies in the grounds.”
“Sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you.” Dawkins retreated, embarrassed at showing his inexperience. “The current contingent, MI6 as well as MI5, want to meet you. I think they were surprised you didn’t come to the embassy before going to the mortuary.”
“My coming here specifically for this investigation was to distance them and the embassy,” reminded Charlie. Which had been his accustomed and all-too-frequent role in a very varied espionage career, sparing others with more delicate hands the distaste of getting them dirtied.
“I don’t think they appreciated that, any more than I did,” said the diplomat. “And the housing officer also wants to see you.”
“I’m sure he does,” accepted Charlie, who had anticipated the confrontation. Dawkins had taken the long way round to reach the British embassy, driving now parallel to the Moskva River along Smolenskaya Naberezhnaya. Charlie gazed nostalgically out at the familiar, once happy surroundings. Before the building of the new embassy, he and Natalia had pushed Sasha along this bordering river embankment, after he’d managed the Moscow posting to return to marry her. They’d talked—perhaps fantasized was a better word—during those walks about their future together. Need it to have been such a fantasy? Not really, not even in those newly thawed days at the supposed end of the Cold War. All it would have needed was Natalia’s acceptance that she’d have to leave Moscow and her beloved Russia, a compromise she’d never been able to make. Nor could he make the matching compromise himself. He’d believed his inevitable discovery as a British intelligence officer—even a former intelligence officer if he’d resigned, which he had been prepared to do—would have made his remaining there impossible. Certainly, Natalia would not have been allowed to continue in the KGB or its succeeding FSB.
“I don’t think he’s happy.”
The louder-voiced repetition broke into Charlie’s reverie. They were talking about the housing officer, he remembered. “I’ll talk to him,” he promised, welcoming the appearance of the four-towered embassy, although not the inevitable irritating confrontations. Bollocks to those, too.
“You’ve got all my numbers, including my home and mobile,” said Dawkins, as they entered the building with its modern-art etchings dominating the reception area. “Don’t forget what I told you about wanting to know everything you do before you do it.”
“Indelibly engraved in my mind,” assured Charlie, emptily.
The reception-desk security officer closely examined Charlie’s ID, up to and including camera confirmation of his facial and eye characteristics, and insisted upon accompanying Charlie to the embassy intelligence section offices, despite Charlie’s assurance that he knew the way.
“Everything’s been tightened up,” explained the guard.
“Bit late now, isn’t it?” remarked Charlie.
“I’ve just got back from home leave,” the man said, quickly evading the question. “I can’t believe he climbed over the walls or the railings without setting off the sensors.”
It always paid to pass the time of day with the lowest of the gossiping staff, reflected Charlie. “Neither can I, with or without sensors. He only had one arm.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the man, with the intensity with which Charlie imagined St. Paul greeted the revelation on the road to Damascus. “It has to be the gates then, doesn’t it? Makes sense now.”
“How does it make sense now?” encouraged Charlie.
“The closed circuit television cameras have been playing up.”
“What about gate guards?”
Again, with the military spontaneity of someone trained always to avoid any responsibility, the man said, “I’m internal, not external. Don’t know anything about that. Or them.”
And he already knew more than enough, Charlie accepted, as they reached the door to the intelligence rezidentura, for him to be passed on to another uniformed guard. Charlie went again through the ID ritual, including facial measurement and retina recognition before finally entering the inner sanctum.
“I’ve been waiting!” impatiently complained the woman on the other side of the door.
Paula-Jane Venables was a slight-bodied though full-busted woman, who wore her auburn hair short and who knew she looked good in designer clothes. The dress was blue, knee-length, and had the logo-identifying matching shoes. Charlie guessed there would be an ensemble-completing handbag somewhere in the river-fronting office into which she led him, but if there were, it was hidden away to maintain the dust-free neatness of the uncluttered office.
Charlie took what he recognized to be the victim’s chair and sat back for the obviously intended inquisition. He crossed one leg over the other, to make it easer to lift the pressure on his left heel. The Hush Puppies were new, not yet broken in, and they pinched. She frowned at his doing it. It was too early to tell but she looked capable of pulling out fingernails, which prompted an immediate question. Had those on the right hand of the man back in the mortuary been intact? He’d forgotten to ask, and certainly to look, and he felt a surge of annoyance at the oversight that might have gone further to confirm the extent of any torture to which the man had been subjected.
“We need to get to know each other,” Paula-Jane announced. “I want to get things straight between us from the start.”
“That’s always best,” agreed Charlie, noting the peremptory tone.
There was an imperceptible tightening to her mouth at his close-to-mocking response. “There was clearly a change in your travel plans?”
Charlie frowned. “You’ve lost me already.”
“London’s alert was that you were arriving yesterday. I’m guessing that, instead, you flew in this morning and went straight to the mortuary, without having time to make contact with me here.”
“No. I got here yesterday.”
“But didn’t bother to call or make personal contact before seeing the body?”
“Didn’t London tell you in their message why I have been sent in?” asked Charlie, patiently.
“To minimize as much as possible any direct connection with the embassy,” acknowledged the woman. “I’m the MI5 resident here: it’s my territory. You can front it all, but I want to know everything that goes on. Understood?”
Charlie sighed. Instead of bothering to answer, he said, “Why don’t you tell me what you know? Like where and how the body was found. By whom. And how you think it got there.”
Paula-Jane hesitated, clearly undecided whether to dismiss his questions or to demand an answer to her own. Eventually she said, “It was found by one of the grounds staff—”
“A Russian?” Charlie interrupted at once, knowing the diplomatic agreement—and counterespionage nightmare—requiring local nationals to be employed as domestic support staff.
“Yes,” answered Paula-Jane, shortly.
“Personnel will have it.”
“So you haven’t questioned him?”
“I was making arrangements to do so when London told me you were being assigned.”
“Making arrangements!”
“The protocol is that in any criminal investigation involving a Russian national employed at the embassy, a Russian Foreign Ministry official has to be present.”
“Did you go to the scene?”
“While the groundsman who found the body was still there?”
“Yes.” Her face was beginning to redden with anger.
“And you didn’t ask him anything!”
“I told you . . .”
“. . . about the unbreachable protocol,” finished Charlie, angry himself and intentionally mocking.
“I was told to obey the rules.”
What was the benefit of pissing into the wind? Charlie asked himself, resigned. “You saw the scene?”
“Was he on his back or his front?”
“His front.”
The answer was vital to keeping him on the investigation, and she wasn’t sure, Charlie guessed. If the Russians found a half unarguable reason or excuse to shoulder him aside—or if he fucked up—the personal repercussions in London would be far more serious than here in Moscow. Charlie knew he was on the weaker side of the power struggle being waged between Aubrey Smith, the ascetic, quiet-voiced man who had championed him since his unexpected appointment from Cambridge University don to Director-General and his passed-over and resentful deputy, Jeffrey Smale. Who hated his guts, like so many in a department in which for far too long—apart from rare respites like that which he’d initially enjoyed under Smith—Charlie had clung by his fingertips. Which would be destroyed like those of this murder victim, if he screwed this assignment up.
Excerpted from Red Star Rising by Brian Freemantle.
Copyright © 2010 by Brian Freemantle.
Published in 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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  • Posted July 18, 2012

    Very highly recommend Red Star Rising

    The twists and turns in the plot will keep you on the edge of your seat and make you want to forget about sleep. There are wheels within wheels all working to bring the reader to a very surprising end.

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  • Posted August 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Top Notch Spy Novel

    Red Star Rising is chock full of spy intrigue, actually brimming with the good stuff that thriller readers like to read. So full, in fact, that the plot becomes unwieldy at points. But, I did decide for the five stars given how my interest stayed with the book to the point that I read it in less than a day. The London Embassy in Moscow has become a security nightmare as lax procedures have allowed a dead body to be found on the embassy grounds.
    Sent from London to investigate, Charlie Muffin discovers a web of intrigue and deception that spanned 20 years. The various double-dealers, incompetents, and outright dangerous individuals he encounters make for a lively tale. But it's the uncovering of the plot that will have readers smiling at the end as author Brian Freemantle saves a huge surprise for those who stayed with him. All very credible, as it should be from an author of 80 books and a long-time foreign correspondent for London media.

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    Posted August 25, 2010

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