Red Corona by Tim Glister #BookReview #BlogTour

It’s 1961 and the white heat of the Space Race is making the Cold War even colder.

Richard Knox is a secret agent in big trouble. He’s been hung out to dry by a traitor in MI5, and the only way to clear his name could destroy him.

Meanwhile in a secret Russian city, brilliant scientist Irina Valera makes a discovery that will change the world, and hand the KGB unimaginable power.

Desperate for a way back into MI5, Knox finds an unlikely ally in Abey Bennett, a CIA recruit who’s determined to prove herself whatever the cost…

As the age of global surveillance dawns, three powers will battle for dominance, and three people will fight to survive…

I am absolutely delighted to be opening the blog tour for Red Corona today. I was fortunate to read a copy of this fabulous debut for First Monday Crime last year but as its publication date was delayed, I'm thrilled to re-share my review ahead of its hardback release later this month. Many thanks to Tim Glister, Point Blank and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

I feel I need to start this review by making it clear that despite the title, Red Corona is not linked to the current crisis and is just one of those strange coincidences that life throws up sometimes. The Corona in question here refers to the Cold War American reconnaissance satellite project, named after the outer layer of the sun's atmosphere that only becomes visible during an eclipse. It's a fitting name for this gripping espionage thriller which gives readers a glimpse into that which isn't usually seen by most of society.
The three narrative strands of the novel follow a British MI5 agent, Richard Knox, Russian scientist, Irina Valera and ambitious CIA recruit, Abey Bennett, with their separate storylines gradually drawn together as their countries all vie to gain an advantage over global friends and enemies in a world slowly adjusting to a new order after the Second World War. Until recently Knox has been the right-hand man of James Holland, the director general of MI5 and was feted as the officer who had broken the Calder Hall spy ring. However, this major triumph now seems like a hollow victory as Holland lies unconscious and unresponsive in hospital, and after refusing to admit his whereabouts on the night his boss was found, Knox has been suspended. Convinced there may be a mole in MI5, he is given a lifeline by the acting DG but he suspects Manning himself may be the traitor. With Watchers monitoring his every move, it soon becomes obvious that he is involved in a risky game of cat and mouse. His chapters form the main part of the novel and as the cynical outsider he is a compelling character, with the sort of backstory which means I would very much welcome reading more about his exploits - past and present - in the future. His troubled history is touched upon here but his current predicament is far more pressing, with potential enemies at almost every turn in a Sixties London brought evocatively to life.
Meanwhile, Irina lives with her young son in the Povenets B, the former prison turned science city in Karelia. As the daughter of a celebrated linguist who was accused of being a Chinese spy and killed in the Great Purge, her life hasn't been easy and she was tempted to move from Leningrad to Povenets B by the promise of a higher standard of living and unlimited research budgets. It has proven to be a decision she regrets, thanks to GRU administrator Zukolev's ruthless treatment of the scientists and their families - their regimented lifestyle includes a limited supply of food and constant demands for more scientific results. It's clear that her position is a precarious one; she realises that to be considered a traitor or a failure could result in a harsh prison sentence or even death. When she is presented with a choice, it becomes patently obvious that she has few other options available to her and her actions are understandable even when not lawful.
If Red Corona is an uncompromising look at spy work during the Cold War, Abey Bennett does at least provide a little light relief at times - particularly when we learn more about her unorthodox training methods. She is a hugely likeable character; intelligent and determined but with a lack of experience which risks leading her into situations she isn't prepared for. She joins forces with Knox but it's an uneasy alliance at times; the increasingly dangerous stakes mean they have to decide to trust one another without ever truly knowing what secrets each is protecting  - or why. This cleverly structured thriller has several tense scenes and there is always a lingering sense of danger but perhaps the most unsettling passage comes when Knox considers the difference between fiction's depiction of spycraft which features malignant forces eternally watching the population, and the strict rules of engagement he follows and accepts most spies adhere to most of the time. He wonders how much the world might change with mass surveillance programmes in place, where every act, thought or statement may be scrutinised. Red Corona is a fascinating exploration of the innovation and ambition of the sixties Cold War period and and captures with superb authenticity the paranoia of the time but it's also sobering to recognise how far we have come - for good or ill - since then as our right to privacy becomes ever more challenged by technological advancements. It's a credit to the author too, that the riveting action sequences are matched by the sharp, insightful examination of individual loyalties, whether to country or on a more personal level and the various dilemmas that ensue as a result.
Taut, ambitious and engaging with a superb sense of time and place, Red Corona is an excellent debut thriller and Tim Glister an author to watch. Highly recommended.

Red Corona is published by Point Blank, it is out now in ebook and will be available in hardback from 28th January 2021. Purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookstores whenever possible, either by ordering directly or through bookshop.org.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.


About the Author
Tim Glister is a Creative Director working in advertising. He's worked for a range of famous and infamous brands, including eighteen months at the controversial political communications agency Cambridge Analytica. He lives in London, and Red Corona is his first novel.

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