Charles Thoroughgood, nearing thirty, has left the military to join Britain’s secret service, MI6. The normality of Charles’s training is disrupted because he knew, as an Oxford student, the Russian Viktor Koslov, now a Soviet diplomat and suspected spy. Hookey, Charles’s boss, wants him to meet Koslov casually and also to engage the cooperation of Chantal, the prostitute Viktor has been seeing.
Viktor knows about Legacy, a long-running Soviet project involving hiding strategic equipment in locations throughout Britain. The project’s name and the novel’s title become ironic, however, when Charles is told by Viktor that his father, who has recently died, had been a Soviet agent since World War II. Charles, the hero of author Alan Judd’s A Breed of Heroes (1981), feels he is drifting into a moral quagmire. How can he pretend to be Viktor’s friend while endangering Viktor’s life and that of his family? How can he become a British agent when his father was a traitor? Complicating matters is his attraction to Anna, wife of one of his senior colleagues. The many similarities of spying and adultery are a major theme.
Because Judd resolves these tangled matters a bit too neatly, his tale lacks the emotional resonance and psychological complexity of such masters as John le Carre and Len Deighton at their best, but it is a smoothly told, engaging look at a young man’s initiation into the morally ambiguous world of espionage.