Book Review: The Last Agent by Robert Dugoni
By John ValeriSeptember 22, 2020
American operative Charles Jenkins once again finds himself in Russia on the run for his life in a thriller of heart-stopping betrayal and international intrigue.
Robert Dugoni—New York Times bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite and David Sloane series—thought he was writing a standalone with last year’s The Eighth Sister. That book introduced Charles Jenkins, a former CIA case agent recruited to infiltrate Moscow in an attempt to locate the Russian agent believed to be assassinating members of a secret US spy cell known as the Seven Sisters. Following a harrowing escape aided by an unlikely ally, Jenkins returned home only to be put on trial for treason by the very government that elicited his help. Though conceived as a singular story, the response to The Eighth Sister was so great that a sequel was conceived: The Last Agent.
In the aftermath of his acquittal, Charles Jenkins has sworn off intelligence work in preference of a quiet life with his wife, their newborn daughter, and their son on their Camano Island, Washington farm. He tends to the land, has paid down his debts, and enjoys meals at the local diner, where everybody knows his story and nobody much cares. This seemingly idyllic state is unceremoniously interrupted, however, when a persistent CIA agent, Matt Lenmore, shows up and announces that he has a matter to take up with Jenkins: Russia. And, more specifically, the prospect that Paulina Ponomayova—the agent who sacrificed herself so that Jenkins could escape—may have survived and is being kept in isolation at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow.
Jenkins—who gave his daughter the middle name Paulina—can not in good conscience allow for the possibility that Ponomayova is being held captive and tortured for information before her undoubted execution. So, with the blessing of his hesitant-yet-understanding wife (a former agent herself), he makes the journey back to Russia, with Lenmore as his stateside handler. Despite the inherent risks, passage into the country is the least of Jenkins’s concerns. Once there, he must somehow convince his onetime nemesis, Viktor Federov, to assist him in confirming if the rumors about Ponomayova are true. Fortunately, Federov is highly motivated by money (among other things); unfortunately, he’s well-versed in duplicity. Can he be trusted? (Can anybody, for that matter?) Jenkins has no choice but to find out as they become objects of a relentless manhunt led by a ruthless killer.
The story unfolds largely through the aforementioned characters’ perspectives, which serves to heighten the thrill of the hunt while also illuminating the enormity of the personal and professional stakes. Indeed, while there is much to be gained, everybody has something—or somebody—to lose. Consequently, the action-oriented sequences—which include epic, elaborately orchestrated chase scenes that play out by land, air, and water—are tempered by quieter moments of introspection and humanity. Questions of loyalty abound, further amplifying the emotion that underlies the book’s more visceral thrills.
The Last Agent is every bit as good as The Eighth Sister—arguably better, even. Robert Dugoni has mastered the art of the international espionage thriller, creating an immersive world of intrigue that demands your attention while providing escapist entertainment on a grand scale. This is high action, high intellect suspense at its very best.