From the more literary end of the espionage-fiction shelf comes this slow-burning, multilayered yarn about love, loss, betrayal, and life on the French Riviera shortly before the outbreak of World War II.
It’s 1935 and Tom Nash, a British special agent turned successful travel writer, is just commencing the social whirl that for many years has dominated his summers. His vivacious 20-year-old goddaughter, Lucy, has recently arrived at the village of Le Rayol, where she’ll soon join her quarrelsome parents, and other of their privileged (and manifestly eccentric) friends are on their way. Nash looks forward to the distractions these people will bring him, helping him forget—at least for a little while—the pains and horrors of his past.
But then one night, he’s attacked in his own bed by an Italian hit man wielding a chloroform-drenched rag, a pistol, and an equally lethal syringe. Nash manages to get the better of his assailant, then chases him to his death over a precipice and disposes of his body in a nearby bay. Still, this damaged, vulnerable former operative is unnerved by the whole episode. If one person came to do him in, another is likely to follow. Nash needs to know why he’s been targeted, whether it has something to do with one of his previous covert assignments. He also wants to learn how that Italian assassin was so thoroughly acquainted with the layout of his coastal home. Is it because somebody close to Nash was behind this attack? Somebody he trusts? Somebody he loves?
If Tom Nash is to save himself, Lucy, and other people he cherishes, he must fall back on the espionage instincts he thought he’d shed, distrust everybody around him, and relive the memories of a lover executed 16 years before by Russian Bolsheviks.
There’s a studied unhurriedness to Mills’ storytelling that plays well against this novel’s episodes of high drama, and that suggests the influences of Ian Fleming and Joseph Conrad. Readers tired of being dragged bodily through rapid-clip adventures, over one cliffhanger after the next, with only workmanlike prose to lubricate their passage, might find The House of the Hunted a refreshing change. ~ Jeff Pierce