My second foray into reading a novel-length work by a writer from the Agents of Treachery anthology, Gayle Lynds’ The Last Spymaster (2006) is a diverting and action-packed contemporary spy yarn that, while mostly enjoyable, didn’t quite knock my socks off.
The “last spymaster” of the title is Jay Tice, a disgraced and imprisoned former CIA hand who mysteriously escapes, without a trace, from a maximum security prison. Assigned to track him down is loose cannon “hunter” Elaine Cunningham, an operative in the CIA’s doghouse given a last chance to redeem herself. Cunningham’s investigation meets with unexpected hazards, however, and it quickly becomes clear that someone is looking to have her eliminated. But is it Tice, or someone else? When Cunningham and Tice finally meet, she’s forced by circumstance to team up with him for her own survival, even as she attempts to unravel the mysteries of his past and thwart an impending threat.
While it possesses all the earmarks of an enjoyable spy thriller, The Last Spymaster didn’t entirely win me over. I liked the initial set-up, but the narrative lost some focus for me as the book progressed — viewpoints kept multiplying as villains and side characters entered the story, and Cunningham gets lost in the shuffle occasionally. The schemes are suitably convoluted and the threat behind it all is a powerful hook, but there’s something haphazard about how it all unfolds — it was a little like reading a novelization of a 24-style TV show, heavy on action, panic, and double-crosses, all woven together in a tangle of intertwining plotlines. I love that on TV, but found it a bit tricky here.
Not my favorite recent spy novel, then, but Lynds delivers a detailed and convincing spy world backdrop, and while this particular mix of ingredients didn’t quite connect, I suspect I’ll give her work another try.