Monday, March 18, 2024

Aubrey Nye Hamilton Reviews: Charlie Muffin by Brian Freemantle

The first of Brian Freemantle’s books about British intelligence agent Charlie Muffin was a contemporary spy novel at the time it was published in 1977 but today it is definitely a historical thriller. The Berlin Wall was still standing when the book was written and that’s where it opens. Charlie and two of his younger, greatly despised colleagues are planning to enter the border crossing to the West after completing their assignment in Communist East Germany. Charlie’s department considers him a relic of the past with no current useful purpose. They have furtively arranged to have him arrested at the Wall, thereby ridding themselves of an embarrassment to their agency. However, Charlie has not survived twenty-five years of danger by accident. In fulfillment of the adage “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance”, he recognizes their skullduggery and smoothly circumvents it.

After that bold attempt to erase him, Charlie has no illusions about the hostility of his workplace but he continues to do his job, convinced he can’t afford to retire. British Intelligence recently captured a major Russian player and, gloating over their success, decided to go after another significant figure. Bringing in General Valery Kalenin of the KGB would be an astonishing coup, one that would restore the reputation of British Intelligence in the world, much needed after the scandals of the Cambridge Five and Profumo. They need Charlie’s help to do it, though.

An excellent look back at Cold War spycraft in all its paranoid and cutthroat detail. A reminder of the alliances and the hostilities that formed quickly and just as quickly shifted into something else. The competitiveness of the various intelligence agencies, even those theoretically on the same side, is illustrated too with the CIA anxious to take some of the credit for the British efforts.

Charlie Muffin is an inspired creation, a working class donkey among the Oxbridge racehorses around him, but still head and shoulders above them in the tricks of their mutual trade. Charlie’s debut seems originally meant to be a stand-alone as the plot threads are tied up at the end. But fifteen books follow this first one with the last issued in 2013, so Freemantle found a way to untie them. Readers of John LeCarre and spy thrillers will relish these stories, as will anyone who enjoys robust senior protagonists who believe in getting even instead of getting mad.


·         Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First Edition (January 1, 1977)

·         Language: English

·         Hardcover: 192 pages

·         ISBN-10: 0224013122

·         ISBN-13: 978-0224013123



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Aubrey Nye Hamilton ©2024

Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.

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