Red Star Burning Review
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For most people, spy thrillers bring to mind the slick, action-packed adventures of agents like James Bond or Jason Bourne. Really, though, there’s much more to the world of espionage than just a bunch of undercover agents with cool gadgets and fight training. Much of the spy work, in fact, takes place behind closed doors, in offices and conference rooms and black sedans—and that’s exactly where most of the story takes place in author Brian Freemantle’s latest spy thriller, Red Star Burning.

After his cover is blown, MI5 field agent Charlie Muffin is placed under agency protection—but, for Charlie, it feels more like prison. To make matters worse, Charlie has a secret: he’s married to Russian intelligence officer Natalia Fedova, and the two have a daughter together. With agents watching his every move, it’s difficult for Charlie to communicate with his family.

  
 
When Natalia reaches out in a series of frantic phone calls, Charlie fears that the FSB has finally learned their secret—which means that Natalia and their daughter, Sasha, are in serious danger. Charlie manages to convince both MI5 and MI6 to work together to rescue his wife and daughter—but he soon begins to realize that there’s more to the story than just a simple extraction.

Readers expecting a fast-paced, Bourne-style spy thriller from Red Star Burning will be in for a big surprise—because while it does occasionally follow agents out in the field as they try to evade detection, most of the story focuses on the men and women who call the shots. Instead of chases and intrigue, it’s really more of a story about secret operations, backstabbing, and political posturing. And instead of a thrilling battle between the good guys and the bad guys, it’s a complex game of chess, played by a bunch of people who are supposed to be on the same side.

For that reason, Red Star Burning isn’t exactly an electrifying page-turner. While it’s somewhat interesting to watch the behind-the-scenes politicking play itself out, the constant chatter makes the story complicated and rather dry—a whole lot of talk and not a lot of action. Mostly, it’s a series of conversations between various members MI5 and MI6—and though many of the characters do have some distinguishing character traits, it’s still often difficult to keep them all straight. And unless you’ve read a number of Charlie Muffin thrillers in the past—and you already have a feel for the character—even the novel’s cunning hero falls a bit flat. Freemantle’s writing style, meanwhile, doesn’t really help—from his strange and distracting use of punctuation to his tendency to refer to characters simply as “the woman” and “the other woman” during already confusing passages.

Fortunately, the suspense does eventually build, leading up to a few action-packed scenes toward the end of the novel. By that time, however, many readers may have long since given up, lost in a mess of long and rather dull discussions. Granted, it’s probably more true to life than, say, a James Bond adventure—and if you’ve got the patience to wade through the lengthy conversations, you might find yourself fascinated by the politics of it all—but that doesn’t necessarily make for a thrilling read.

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