Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown

Nerves and sabers rattle in this high-stakes spy thriller of the Cold War

A British agent confronts the brilliant mastermind behind a suspicious port explosion, only to discover the stakes for human civilization are infinitely higher than a shipping disaster.

Cold Star, a spy thriller set during the Cold War, transports readers to a convincing 1960s Casablanca as well as immersing them in a secret agent’s morally ambiguous world. Author Dick Woodgate displays his love of this genre’s classics with the shadowy spirit of the great spy stories before him.

The point-of-view character, an unnamed British spy referred to as “the agent,” is assigned to investigate a ship explosion in the port of Casablanca. The official reports don’t quite ring true, and the western allies are eternally vigilant for Soviet nuclear weapons threats.

With a little snooping and a lot of informant interrogation, the agent quickly determines that something huge and threatening is under construction out in the Moroccan desert. He meets his match, however, at the facility, facing a number of challenges as he tries and fails to stop the threat. The outcome is in question right to the bitter end.

Cold Star is successful on a number of levels, including its strong plot, its classic spy story nostalgia, and its unique and truly convincing setting. Readers are treated to rich detail of the fabled city in this one.

“The sun had set about an hour before and the narrow street, densely populated with ancient buildings crowding out the remaining early evening light, provided pocket of deeper shadows which played to his advantage—as did the dark blue paint job on the coachwork of the Maserati.”

The Cold War ambience and attitudes are also communicated well. The 1960s-style secret agent is a classic entertainment icon, and in this way, Cold Star doesn’t disappoint. The agent is a suave young man, savoring life’s sensory pleasures of fast cars, champagne, and luxury hotels. Professionally amoral, he vaguely alludes to some fine point of international law before disposing of his adversary de jour. Yet we do see a bit of introspection as the agent contemplates his future, writ-large before him in the washed-up, alcoholic station chief who helps with his investigation.

The villain’s plot is audacious and clever, and he has a solid motivation to carry the story forward. The high stakes and their global importance make the story a true thriller. The narrative arc is strong, and a great twist at the end generates a force of change for the agent himself, which is a deft touch that elevates the story.

The book has a clean, clear narrative voice, with just enough clever turns-of-phrase to keep me satisfied. For example, the debris at the port after the ship explosion is described: “In the process of cooling, it had now fused to form an extraordinary new structure, looking like a monumental dripping sculpture by Salvador Dali.”

The 1960s was a man’s world, at least as presented by pop culture. Lately, society has begun to uncover new historical information and hear additional voices. Unfortunately, Cold Star perpetuates the “man’s world” myth occasionally to the story’s detriment. Women characters are few, and the only one with a plot function is Valentina, a beautiful young Russian woman working at the Soviet Consulate in Casablanca. The agent, and more importantly, the book, always refers to her as “the girl,” disappointing since she is thirty years old. And after a scene in which the agent shares some of his past and Valentina confesses her dashed career hopes to become an astronomer, I’m feeling hopeful that her internal story will progress, but she continues with a lack of agency that perhaps could have helped this novel climb over the negative characteristics of the outdated classics it emulates.

But espionage and thriller readers are going to enjoy the novel’s high stakes and the villain’s clever threat to humanity. Historical fiction fans interested in the 1960s, the Space Race, and the Cold War will also appreciate the level of detail woven into the story.

Genre: Spy Thriller / Historical

Print Length: 287 pages

ISBN: 979-8504262888


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