The TristanBetrayal begins in Moscow in 1991, when a cabal of Communist hard-liners are in the process of a coup to overthrow Gorbachev’s democratic government -- and it looks like they’re going to succeed. American Ambassador Stephen Metcalfe is secretly and urgently summoned to this nation poised on the brink of a nuclear war and expected to re-work his magic and prevent catastrophe as he once did during World War II. Can Metcalfe persuade the Dirizhor, the man whose decision can make or break Russia’s future, to back off, or is there a third World War in the offing?
This tense scenario in the present is interrupted by repeated and prolonged flashbacks to the past, specifically to the year 1940. Here, Stephen Metcalfe is enjoying playing an American spy in Nazi-occupied France in the guise of an Argentine millionaire playboy -- not far from his true identity. But things take an ugly turn when someone betrays Stephen and his fellow spies to the Germans. Stephen barely manages to stay one step ahead of a tenacious Nazi assassin called Kleist, who kills his victims by garroting them with the E-string of his violin. His cover blown, Metcalfe is sent on a mission to Russia, which is basking in the glow of having signed a non-aggression treaty with Hitler. But this time the stakes are much higher and more personal, the dangers vastly more deadly. Put in an impossible dilemma, will Metcalfe make the right decision?
Although Robert Ludlum died in 2001, this novel was still published under his name in 2003 with no credit given to any co-author or editor. Still, the novel is tense and gripping in the manner of most Ludlum novels. As usual, Europe is the center of this saga, which begins in Nazi-occupied France and takes the readers on a suspenseful journey across parts of Europe, predominantly Russia. The suspense is moderately good, even though the plot feels a bit hackneyed. There is also a love triangle which, while not very dominant, does play a pivotal role in the story. More than the narrative, it is the atmosphere of a war-occupied Paris and a Russia bowed under the double tyranny of Stalin and Hitler which the author captures with such detailed authenticity and presents with such immense intensity that makes this 521-page tome a delight, rather than a chore, to read. Whether it was all Ludlum or the efforts of some uncredited ghostwriter, this meticulous research is laudable and the saving grace of an otherwise predictable storyline.