Robert Dugoni’s last thriller found ex-CIA officer Charles Jenkins recruited for a dangerous mission, to locate the so-called eighth sister, part of a group of women chosen from birth to spy on Russia for the U.S. Jenkins completed his assignment only to be tried for espionage when he returned home. After he was exonerated at trial, Jenkins retired to his farm with his younger wife, Alex, their son, and daughter.
The resentment he felt towards those who betrayed him has mostly faded, but he’s justifiably angry when Matt Lemore, of the CIA’s Clandestine Services, shows up asking Jenkins to return to Russia. But when he finds out who needs to be rescued, a woman he thought had died, he signs on. Dugoni’s The Last Agent, the followup to The Eighth Sister, is another roller-coaster ride.
Paulina Ponomayova, responsible for getting Jenkins safely out of Russia, is now being held in the country’s notorious Lefortovo Prison. Lemore tells Jenkins that Paulina is most likely being tortured to reveal the identities of the other women spies.
Jenkins knows he owes Paulina a huge debt. Because of her sacrifice, he was able to return home to meet his new daughter, naming her Elizabeth Paulina, in tribute. He tells Alex he won’t take on the assignment without her approval, knowing how difficult it was for her the last time he was gone. But Alex knows her husband and that he feels an obligation to free Paulina.
Jenkins has two advantages. He speaks Russian (although he uses the time before he leaves to brush up). And he knows someone inside Russia who can help. Federov, the Federal Security Service agent, was a worthy opponent, but after his failure to capture Jenkins, he was fired and vilified by his country’s intelligence service. Jenkins knows that Federov wants revenge on the agents who betrayed him.
Physical appearance is Jenkins’ big disadvantage. A Black man who is six feet, three inches tall, he stands out, particularly in less diverse Russia. Rather than hide, Jenkins makes his first move by alerting the FSB that he is back. The American agent who betrayed Jenkins had placed ten million dollars in two Swiss accounts through a Moscow bank. Jenkins visits the bank and makes a small deposit, thus triggering an alert with Russian intelligence. Before he leaves the bank, he learns the name of the second account holder and transfers all the funds.
That ten million dollars is what Jenkins uses as leverage to enlist Federov’s help. As one of Putin’s trusted men, Federov had enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, even though working long hours led to a divorce and estrangement from his children. Jenkins locates Federov at a luxury spa along with a prostitute he’s paid for the weekend. While surprised to see Jenkins, Federov doesn’t need much convincing. He wants the money, having been let go without a pension. But he also has something to prove to his former FSB colleagues – that he’s a skilled operative, no matter which side he’s on.
Despite the cruel torture inflicted upon Paulina, she’s remained silent. Federov’s former boss, Efimov, known for his barbaric methods for extracting information from prisoners, knows that this interrogation is being closely watched by Putin. Failure is not an option. Efimov also knows that Federov has a connection with Jenkins, something that might be used to pressure Paulina. With few options left, Efimov agrees to let Federov take over the interrogation.
Gaining Paulina’s trust is Federov’s first task. How to signal that Federov is now working with Jenkins and not still a Russian agent? There are photographs of women, possible spies, that are shown to Paulina. Using a magic trick, Federov slips in a recent family photo of the Jenkins family, including the baby girl. Paulina understands and begins to talk with Federov, a breakthrough that gives him more time with the prisoner. On a subsequent visit, Federov plants a medical patch on her arm, inducing a pseudo heart attack. Jenkins is waiting in an ambulance and they quickly make an escape. But dodging scores of Russian cops and dealing with a fierce Russian snow storm will make their getaway difficult. The journey involves virtually every mode of transportation available. Even leaving Russia doesn’t guarantee safety. Being poisoned in another country by a Putin operative has become routine.
We know Jenkins will escape, but what about Paulina and Federov? Dugoni keeps up the tension and, if that doesn’t induce chills, his descriptions of the Russian weather will.
The Last Agent
Author’s photo: Douglas Sonders