The Third Betrayal

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

David Nairn, like George Smiley, has grown old in the service of his country, but he is, if anything, more dangerous at age sixty than in his more impetuous youth. He will need all his skill and expertise, for he has been asked to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century -- the existence and identity of the “fifth mole” inside British Intelligence. (Mole is the term used to describe an agent planted in a rival intelligence service whose brief is to achieve a position of such seniority that he can provide information concerning broad segments of an organization’s operations.) In the 1930’s, Soviet intelligence managed to recruit no less than four individuals, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Anthony Blunt, who in the course of their careers exposed substantial portions of the activities of MI5 (the British intelligence agency) to the Russians and damaged the reputation of the British secret service seemingly beyond repair. In 1970, even the retired head of MI5 was accused, and still remains suspect, of also being a traitor--the so-called Fifth Man. If there were a fifth man, might there not also be other moles still actively engaged in plying their devious and deadly trade? Nairn is offered an opportunity to discover at last the truth of the matter when the son of a high-ranking Soviet spy expresses his desire to defect to the West. This allows Nairn to put pressure on the Russian agent to defect also and thus finally lay to rest the rumors of who was a traitor and who remains behind to continue the insidious work.

Hartland switches his narrative from past to present as he develops the career of the Soviet agent, Ruth Kuczynski, and depicts the efforts by Nairn and his able assistant, Sarah Cable, to persuade Kuczynski to defect and reveal what she knows. THE THIRD BETRAYAL has enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most discriminating devotee of the genre and enough historical fact to validate the statement that truth is often stranger than fiction. Hartland has yet to achieve the ambiguities and subtleties of John le Carre, but he has the ability to produce a rattling good read.