House of the Hunted
Mark Mills
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Buy *House of the Hunted* by Mark Mills online

House of the Hunted
Mark Mills
Random House
320 pages
April 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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His life filled with gut-wrenching paranoia, Tom Nash--the protagonist of Millsí latest elegant and fast-paced thriller--proves that you canít escape your past even if you wanted to. Eerily prophetic, the authorís tale of covert intelligence in Petrograd in 1919, and later in the wealthy CŰte díAzur, France, in 1935 signifies more to the of dangerous rise of fascism than to Tomís vilification by a vengeful Bolshevik operative.

Millsí smooth and sophisticated tale is a sinkhole of desperation and duplicity, swarming with ťmigrťs and spies in which information and disinformation are the twin orders of the day. Faced with reports that his pregnant girlfriend, Gina, has been incarcerated, tortured, perhaps even shot, Tom undertakes a forced flight from Russia--but not before exacting a violent retaliation on the perpetrator of the crime.

A member of British Foreign Office delegation assigned to protect the very last British spy just as the Bolsheviks begin their reign of bloody terror, Tom is sure his retribution will come at the cost to his own life. Still, the calculating pragmatist in him prevails over base emotions when years later, amid the heat of 1935 southern France, Tom resides in the villa of Le Rayol, luxuriously playing up his role as the impecunious author of travel books.

A web of privileged connections involving Germans, British, Americans, and White Russian ťmigrťs renders the palm-fringed promenades of Le Lavandou and the twisting shorelines of Cote de Maures a veritable melting pot of misplaced privilege. Private agendas of individuals seem at first subservient to the lifestyles of the glamorous. While Russian art collectors Yevgeny and Fanya are particularly devoted to the avant-garde, Tom remains under the surreptitious wing of his best friend, intelligence analyst Leonard and his lovely wife, Venetia.

As Leonardís twenty-two-year-old goddaughter, Lucy, showers Tom with affection, he fears for her life when an Italian assassin enters Le Rayol and tries to murder him. Hurled into darkness from which he thought he had finally dragged himself by sheer force of will, Tom is forced to turn to the larger issue of who wants him dead and why. Tom curses himself for his complacency and false sense of security. Forced to scavenge for clues, the resonances of his actions back in 1919 have carried down through the years to the present day, where only enigmatic Leonard can provide the link in the causal chain of events.

Mills' dreamlike prose bathes Tomís battles in the slow abrasion of time, his existence balanced precariously between a violent past ruled by fear and suspicion and a paranoid present that strikes at the heart of the Cote de Maures with the full force of a hurricane. Sweeping all of this before him, Tom is caught up in a series of violent contretemps recalling James Bond, where benign duplicity is balanced against a series half-truths and white lies.

Because this is essentially an historical thriller, Mills firmly embeds Tomís journey within Hitlerís rising lunacy and the Soviet failure to understand why the revolution didnít spread beyond their borders. Danger lurks in the most unexpected of places, the sparkling beaches of the Cote des Maures a glamorous backdrop to hunter and prey as Tom suddenly realizes that heís being played for a bloody and stupid fool.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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