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Vagabond    by Gerald Seymour order for
by Gerald Seymour
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2016 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sergeant Danny Curnow, call sign Vagabond, was a legend in his time, but the work he did (playing god with the lives of agents and informants in Northern Ireland) broke him. One day - after the death of Padraig Riordan, who left an eight-year-old son, Malachy - he simply walked away (followed by Dusty Miller who always had his back) and settled in France. There, he leads tours of French World War battlefields. Excerpts from tour details are interspersed throughout the novel.

Fast forward fifteen years to the modern day, with new handlers in place in Northern Ireland. Ralph Exton, an English (reluctant) double agent, is blackmailed and sent into great danger (to broker an arms deal between militant IRA and a Russian contact of his, ex-GRU officer Timofey Simonov), but only one of those responsible is deeply affected by the risk he's taking, of a hard death. The other, MI5 officer Gaby Davies, is relieved when Exton survives, but for the sake of the operation rather than any concern for him.

Vagabond is an intricate and multi-layered spy story. On one level, MI5 sets up an operation to foil an IRA arms deal that would support a new escalation of violence in Northern Ireland. Gaby Davies considers herself in charge of that, but her boss, Matthew Bentinick decides that he wants more experience in play and calls Danny Curnow back into the fold. The opposition sends Malachy Riordan to Europe to close the deal, accompanied by a passionate young female recruit. Malachy is off his patch and very uneasy about it.

That's the surface plotline, but there's a great deal going on below it, with a large cast of characters involved and interacting. This makes the story hard to follow at times, but it's worth sticking with it - through all kinds of violence, betrayals and surprises - to an ending worthy of John le Carre.

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