Walking Back the Cat

Walking Back the Cat

4.0 2
by Robert Littell

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Now back in print-a mesmerizing espionage thriller from the bestselling author of The Company

Robert Littell has made a name for himself as one of the foremost authors of literary spy thrillers. Here, Littell abandons his usual East European milieu to focus on New Mexico, where a Sovietera KGB agent, code-named Parsifal, has been living under deep


Now back in print-a mesmerizing espionage thriller from the bestselling author of The Company

Robert Littell has made a name for himself as one of the foremost authors of literary spy thrillers. Here, Littell abandons his usual East European milieu to focus on New Mexico, where a Sovietera KGB agent, code-named Parsifal, has been living under deep cover. Reactivated by a new controller for some particularly brutal 'wetwork' murder-Parsifal's suspicions are aroused. Fearing a double- cross, he begins, in espionage lingo, 'walking back the cat' firetracing the operation to find the source of the deception. His manhunt leads him to an Apache-run casino where he crosses paths with CIA operatives, Apaches, and Finn, a disillusioned Gulf War vet with his own investigation to pursue.

Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
Good local color and lots of solid characterization here . . . Littell pulls it all together with cool elegance and restraint.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Two veteran publishing folkespionage novelist Littell (The Visiting Professor, etc.) and former Penguin CEO Peter Mayer, now Overlook's publishermake a smashing debut at Overlook by way of Littell's superb new spyfest. Littell weaves a wickedly twisted plot, setting the novel's nefarious action in a reclaimed mountain ghost town in a Surma Apache Indian reservation in New Mexico. A deep-cover KGB network, dormant since the end of the Cold War, is revived when a hit is ordered on a Russian woman in a small Texas town. The hit man, codenamed Parsifal, gets curious when his next victims are all Apache Indians. He begs his handler to explain why, but is stonewalled. Meanwhile, a Gulf War veteran known as Finn, on the run from the law, has found tentative refuge on the reservation, befriending the tribe's leader, Eskeltsetle, his young wife, Shenandoah, and his son, Thomas. When Finn catches Shenandoah dealing winning poker hands to a casino patron, he presses Eskeltsetle, who reveals an extortion scheme by the Mafia and the deaths of the several young tribe members who tried to end it. The Indian sends Finn to the tribe's "guardian angel," a local newspaper editor who in turn propels Finn into ambush with Parsifal. Learning from Finn of the Mafia connection, however, the assassin begins to doubt the bona fides of his handler and spares Finn's life. Finn and Parsifal join forces to "walk back the cat," starting with the editor and following the trail to discover who had co-oped the KGB network and to what end. Sinister deeds and playful characterizations ricochet the reader through a complex plot, replacing the genre's usual high-tech gizmos with the strengths and skills of lone-wolf heroes. This is a top-notch entry from a master of the genre. 50,000 first printing; $40,000 ad/promo. (June)
Library Journal
In the delightful, surprising Cat, which is of a piece with Littell's other fine thrillers (e.g., The Defection of A.J. Lewinter), "Parsifal," a Soviet mole, discovers that he no longer carries out his "wet work" (contract killing) for the KGB but for an unknown party who is using a New Mexico casino run by "all that's left on earth of the Suma Apaches, the smallest Indian tribe in America, living on the smallest Indian reservation in America" to launder money. Parsifal joins forces with his final intended victim, a Gulf War dropout named Finn. Together they "walk back the cat," retracing the chain of command between Parsifal and the hidden executive who ordered Finn's execution. The wholly unexpected finale involves Parsifal and Finn, a bunch of rogue CIA agents, some very determined Apaches, and a hot-air balloon. Very funny and very good.David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus
Kirkus Reviews
An aging KGB agent and a seen-it-all Gulf War vet join forces to thwart a ring of freelance assassins in this quirky Cold War thriller.

Finn, a balloonist on the fly from the consequences of a bar brawl in Seattle, sets down on the tiny Suma Apache reservation in New Mexico to find that the locals' casino has been paying serious protection money to the Mafia. Finn also finds himself falling in love with the elderly headman's young wife, Shenandoah. While he's trying to overcome her resistance, he resolves to do what he can to help her people—and that means getting their Sicilian partners off their backs. But the shakedown artists aren't the Mafia after all, as Finn learns when his appointment to brief an FBI agent on the deaths of earlier Suma complainants almost leads to his getting killed himself. Instead, as Finn works it out with the help of Parsifal, the false defector who's actually a KGB agent sent to assassinate him, Parsifal himself has executed them all at the behest of the higher-ups who reactivated him four years after glasnost buried his deep-cover placement even deeper. But why does the KGB want to milk a lowly Apache casino and kill those who make a stink about the profit-sharing? The beautifully simple answer is that they don't: Sometime between the fall of the USSR and the raising of the casino, rogue operatives tapped into Parsifal's chain of command, and they're now running him as a wetwork specialist who thinks his jobs are being authorized by Mother Russia. So instead of killing Finn, Parsifal uses his help to puzzle out what went wrong, and at whose instance.

Even though the answers aren't as elegant or original as the questions, Littell (The Visiting Professor, 1994, etc.) delivers the goods with understated ingenuity and his hallmark tenderness—a commodity even rarer in spy fiction than merited trust.

Product Details

Overlook Press, The
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.36(w) x 6.30(h) x 0.87(d)

What People are saying about this

Tom Clancy
If Robert Littell didn't invent the American spy novel, he should have.
Alan Cheuse
Robert Littell writes the best spy fiction in the United States.

Meet the Author

Robert Littell was born, raised, and educated in New York. A former Newsweek editor specializing in Soviet affairs, he left journalism in 1970 to write fiction full time. Connoisseurs of the spy novel have elevated Robert Littell to the genre's highest ranks, and Tom Clancy wrote that “if Robert Littell didn’t invent the spy novel, he should have.” He is the author of fifteen novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Company and Legends, the 2005 L.A. Times Book Award for Best Thriller/Mystery. He currently lives in France.

Brief Biography

Martel, France
Date of Birth:
January 8, 1935
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
B.A., Alfred University, 1956

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Walking Back the Cat 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
redhawk More than 1 year ago
Littell ranks with LeCarre and McCarry as someone who writes like they've been there. This is a great book that mixes the thrills of espionage with the realities of life.