I love it when the second book in a series is better than its predecessor. And make no mistake, this is not a standalone novel, despite the odd lack of signalling otherwise. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t start with Nick Setchfield’s The War In The Dark, which sets the scene for why our 1960s spy Christopher Winter is, in this book, working as a hired thug for London mobsters after his none-too-gracious parting of ways from British Intelligence. A transaction gone wrong sees him back in contact with the SIS, however, who require his services once more. Seems an Italian spy working behind the Iron Curtain has requested extraction to the west, and has specifically asked for Winter. Well, not technically: she’s specifically asked for whom Winter used to be.
Winter thought he’d left that all behind, but several factors, including a lack of gainful employment, persuade him to go undercover once more to help Alessandra Moltini escape. Aided by one of the service’s first female field agents, the utterly charming Libby Cracknell, he travels to Hungary and meets Alessandra, then things quickly go haywire. Double-crossed and forced to flee for Vienna, Alessandra brings the trio to her own masters, who set them on a chase through Europe to take down one of the most powerful figures of a rival establishment, mightier even than the SIS.
Standard spy stuff, deftly handled, but with an added twist: Alessandra is a demon who knew Winter when he was a death-dealing sorcerer, and needs his help in a game between ancient inhuman races jockeying for power over the mortal world. Mr Setchfield takes all the terrific stuff from his first novel — occult world-building, stylish espionage with a side of Bourne Identity amnesia — and adds greater depth in this follow up. I cared about the characters this time around, felt invested in their goals. I’m still kinda mad about the one death! The only thing I did want to see in this book that wasn’t there was Karina, but I’m hoping she shows up again in future novels. This was great stuff, and I’m only hoping Mr Setchfield continues to get better and better.