“Who is Agent 6?” is billed as the mystery at the center of this last installment of the Leo Demidov series, but the true mystery is how do you make a KGB agent both believable and likeable? The two traits would strike most as mutually exclusive in a member of a secret police force. How can a person do such despicable deeds, be it out of dedication to an ideal, a means of survival, or animal cruelty, and yet present a sympathetic character? That is what Tom Rob Smith has accomplished in this series that began with Child 44 and concludes with Agent 6. It’s a series of spy thrillers featuring a spy from the other side. He doesn’t fight for us, and yet we are in his corner. His own people cower in fear of him, but we urge him on in his quest. This does not reveal a flaw in our character; it shows the true strength of Leo’s.
The flaw that makes a recurring appearance is the disjointed timeline, with a section that pre-dates Child 44, a section that follows after The Secret Speech, and a final section set 15 years beyond that. The spread of the timeline should encompass more than the three books in the series, rather than fitting the constraints of the final book. Each segment is of interest, from Leo and Raisa’s compulsory courtship, to the introduction of the Paul Robeson-esque socialist singer Jesse Austin, to the American agents who act to foil and as foil for Leo, to the time spent wasting away in Afghanistan. It all warrants inclusion, but in a longer and better developed series. I’m a poor judge of thrillers, but I find the characters compelling enough to say they deserve more scenes before this series comes to its inevitable conclusion.