Avid fans, such as you and I, of Brian Haig‘s military thrillers featuring wise-apple Sean Drummond may have wondered hazily, in that sweet empty portion of the evening whilst staring at the glowing coals in the fireplace and scratching the head of your faithful furry animal — whatever that horrid thing is — just what a novel by this first-rate crime writer would be like if he went… Drummond-less?
Now we know: still first rate.
Hard as it may be for the smirky Lieutenant Colonel to hear, Mr. Haig can get by, at least temporarily, without him. For one thing, Mr. Haig is capable of taking on himself the cracking-wise duty formerly delegated to his fictional JAG officer/sleuth — and in his new novel, The Hunted, he does so with nonchalant ease.
Which is odd to say, because The Hunted is not — really not — a comic novel. On the contrary, the subject is very grim, often frightening: During the collapse of the Soviet empire and the struggling years of its rebirth as a nation-sized lunatic asylum, an unusually capable entrepeneur, Alex Konevitch, achieves remarkable success and rakes in, oh, oodles of money. Tons of the stuff. Enough to draw the evil gaze of a former KGB operative, now a Russian government official, who wants to get the rubles for himself and also to punish Alex whom he sees an ally of Yeltsin, i.e. an instrument his downfall as a hotshot Soviet bigwig. Plus he needs to practice his now rusting torture skills.
Sergei Golitsin — he’s the former KGB nasty — does in fact snaffle those rubles via a vast leftwing conspiracy involving the Russian Mob, as well as (I regret to report) the United States Attorney General’s office. He also subjects poor Alex to brutal torture and public disgrace in preparation for offing the guy. How Alex and his formidable wife, Elena, escape, on one hand, the clutches of Golitsin and his crew of KGB and Mafiya, and on the other hand, a subverted FBI, INS, DHS and AG office, is the stuff of this exciting book.
It ought to be scary, and it is. Very tense stuff, but Haig’s style is everywhere brisk and, well, it made me laugh, anyhow. Elena, while still in the catbird seat in a posh manse in Moscow, doesn’t simply worry about the abuse the envious Muskovites heap (literally) on her doorstep, no; as Haig puts it: “”Any day, Elena expected a flotilla of Molotov cocktails to sail through her window.” That’s the style. So even during the most harrowing moments of Alex’s shooting the rapids between Scylla (KGB ‘n’ friends) and Charybdis (Um. That would be us. Sorry.) Haig always had me a-grinning.
Which is especially remarkable considering this: Though fictionalized, the whole thing is based on actual events, actual people, one of whom (the living prototype of Alex) personally asked Haig to tell his story to the world. Alex had already written a non-ficiton book detailing the outrages and injustice he endured — it’s called Defiance — but I guess he wanted something out there with more punch and wide appeal (i.e. something a simple soul like me would read).
He got it: The Hunted. Terrific. You’ll love it.
by Brian Haig
(Grand Central Publishing, Hardcover, 464pp.)
by Alex Konanykhin
(Renaissance Publishing, Hardcover, 240pp.)