This superior end-of-the-Cold-War cat-and-mouse espionage thriller from screenwriter/novelist Beckner, the creator of the CIA drama The Agency among other projects, kicks off a book trilogy that’s actually a cross-media (and cross-decades) quartet. Set in the “kinder, gentler America” of 1991, Muir’s Gambit opens as a prequel to the 2001 film Spy Game, written by Beckner, with the subsequent books in Beckner’s Aiken Trilogy picking up after the events of the movie, following the deadly, morally murky adventures of CIA characters originally played by Robert Redford and Brad Pitt into the 21st century. Fans of the film will relish the return of compromised, world-weary Company men facing past sins and playing long games within longer games, the stakes less about national security than their own souls.
This entry is named for ambiguous spymaster Nathan Muir (Redford’s character, described with enticing precision as “the coolest version of handsome with a smile that spoke an entire language of its own”). But the trilogy’s heart is CIA lawyer Russell Aiken, who harbors a personal grudge against Muir, his one-time mentor. Muir seems connected to the murder of a CIA “hero,” and Aiken is dispatched to the Florida Keys to get Muir’s confession and resignation—and to make sure the agency’s dark secrets stay submerged. Early on, Muir, a lover of show-stopping monologues, makes “hero” sound like a “vulgarity,” only the first indication of the case’s wrenching complexity.
As in the film, Beckner demonstrates a deft hand at the thinking and tradecraft of spies, tying tangled backstories to in-the-moment surprises that don’t just jolt the plot—they upend perceived reality while demonstrating the toll this work exacts. Liberated from the demands of tight screenplays, Beckner lets the story expand deep into these men’s shared history without losing narrative urgency. Charged, vivid prose, electric dialogue, and an encyclopedic command of 20th century espionage and culture keep the pages turning until a pained, satisfying ending. This prequel enriches the earlier work.
Takeaway: A chilling, inspired espionage thriller and prequel to the film Spy Game.
Great for fans of: Paul Vidich, John Le Carré.
Production grades Cover: A Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: A
"Muir's Gambit is a brilliant opening salvo in the author's Aiken trilogy. Espionage fans looking for an alternative to standardized spy-thriller tropes will find plenty to entertain them in this satisfyingly offbeat offering."—BlueInk Reviews
"In this prequel to the espionage thriller Spy Game, Beckner returns to Nathan Muir's CIA origins...[where] the line between [truth] and [lies] is blurred, often beyond recognition. Beckner consistently demonstrates a knack for taking high-stakes situations and storylines and adding an array of dimensions that deliver a more intimate connection." —RECOMMENDED, The US Review of Books
"It's rare, in the thriller genre, to find such an ongoing and neat juxtaposition of interests and vying forces, [but] Michael Frost Beckner's Muir's Gambit...succeeds on so many levels that its course is not only unpredictable, but thoroughly delightful."—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
"5 out of 5 stars."—Foreword Clarion Reviews
In this debut novel, a CIA attorney tries to elicit a murder confession from the man who recruited him into the agency.
When a bomb blows up Charlie March and his yacht in 1991, the dying CIA officer in his last few words utters the name Nathan. The agency quickly sends legal counsel Russell Aiken to interview Nathan Muir at the Florida island home he rents every September. The two men have a strong connection: Muir recruited Aiken years ago. As for March, he recruited Muir from the Marine Corps in 1950s South Korea. Muir, who claims he didn’t kill March, talks about working for his mentor, including hunting a spy in Korea. Yet Muir’s history teems with sordid details and secrets, from his reputed discovery that March had “gone bad” to his fallout with Tom Bishop, another CIA recruit and field officer. But it turns out that Aiken has also been involved in some unsavory deeds, such as using his skills to help Muir jump legal hurdles. As Muir’s decadeslong chronology inches closer to what Aiken hopes is a confession, the CIA operations officer has a bevy of surprises for the attorney. TV/film writer Beckner’s riveting series opener takes characters from a Hollywood script he penned—the Tony Scott–directed Spy Game(2001). The author packs this epic narrative with plot turns and real-world events, such as the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. The cast is also multilayered, especially Muir, Aiken, and Bishop. Aiken, for example, has struggled with alcoholism and just found out his wife is cheating on him. The novel, primarily encompassing the crucial interview, is relentlessly tense, as Muir knows things that should stay hush-hush and certainly tells lies at least some of the time. He’s both debonair and chilling and drops such memorable one-liners as “We’d go where the Cold War blows.” The open ending offers a thorough resolution as well as more than one shocker.
This smashing espionage tale kicks off what promises to be a smart, indelible series.