Gerald Seymour’s TIMEBOMB is an old-school espionage thriller. It relies less on outrageous, nonstop, Hollywood-esque explosive action and concentrates more on the small details, the inner workings of a covert operation, the intricate skeins of multiple stories raveling and unraveling, and the motivations behind the lives of innumerable characters, from the lowly grunt far down the organizational ladder to the capo dei capi who happens to be planning a truly dangerous coup.
In the late 2000s, two dismissed Russian officers manage to steal a small atomic demolition munition, and their plan is to sell it to Reuven Weissberg and Josef Goldmann, two ruthless businessmen who haven’t handled something on this scale before, but now that the plan is in motion, there’s no going back.
The UK Serious Crime Directorate has a man on the inside of Goldmann’s home, but he is being marginalized and has been learning nothing during his term of employment. Enter the shadowy Secret Intelligence Service and the character of the extraordinarily rude (and extremely enjoyable) Christopher Lawson. He knows how to get results.
In short order, Lawson manipulates the situation so the inside man is promoted within the criminal organization. Now all he and his team have to do is track down the shipment of the bomb and make sure it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
The problem is, some of his team really don’t respect him and revile his methods. Even the man on the inside is wavering, and threatens to quit the whole scene at one point.
This isn’t Dan Brown with a bunch of secret codes or TV’s NCIS with all its gadgetry and technology. It’s almost Cold War-era espionage à la John le Carré with paragraphs that leave only subtle hints about what’s going on, as layer after layer is added to the story.
Unfortunately, this does mean there is some repetitiveness in a book that’s well over 400 pages long, and some effort could have been made to trim it down a bit. But the simple story is gripping; the characters (all of them) are well-drawn; and the suspense is strongly felt.
Seymour is an acknowledged master of the spy genre, writing in this field since 1975 and creating absolute classics like HARRY’S GAME, THE WAITING TIME and many more. Add TIMEBOMB to that list and start reading. —Mark Rose