Review published on August 11, 2018.
David Krugler is a strong new voice in historical spy fiction. The first Ellis Voigt novel The Dead Don’t Bleed was a good old school spy story, Rip the Angels from Heaven is even better. Krugler has fully found his rhythm with this convoluted tale of deception set in Washington and Los Alamos in 1945. The Manhattan Project features a lot in literary and spy fiction (Robert Olen Butler and Joseph Kanon spring to mind), so it’s a measure of how good this novel is that Krugler has brought us something fresh and original. This is a novel that can easily be read as a standalone (although you will enhance your experience by reading The Dead Don’t Bleed). Fans of Paul Vidich will love David Krugler.
July, 1945. Lieutenant Ellis Voigt works for the Office of Naval Intelligence – Sabotage, Espionage and Countersubversion (B7). The novel opens with his report to Commander Burton Paslett on the murder of Lieutenant Logan Skerrill, shot to death in a Washington alley. The report identifies H&H Clippings, run by a man called Himmel, as a front for Soviet agents (a courier service). Voigt has infiltrated the organisation claiming to be delivery man Ted Barton (dishonourable discharge and communist sympathies). Voigt gets wind of a top secret army weapons project in New Mexico. He has established that Philip Greene (now in the hands of the FBI) shot Skerrill on Himmel’s orders because he was a suspected FBI double. Since then Himmel has gone missing. Voigt makes two recommendations: find Himmel and find the identity of the spy in New Mexico.
It all starts to get a bit more complicated from there. Voigt is interrogated by the Russians, the NKVD. They know his real name and they know he was picked up by the FBI. They want to know about Voigt’s last meeting with Himmel. Voigt says Himmel wanted to talk to him about the FBI, they appear to believe him. So is Voigt working for the Russians? Voigt has lied to the interrogators but him motives aren’t clear. He spied on a meeting between Himmel and a messenger from the New Mexico Project. Voigt is keeping his naval intelligence role hidden from the FBI and, as Greene is blaming him for Skerrill’s murder, they are very suspicious of him now. Voigt’s immediate problem is the Russians finding the boy who helped him and a naval engineer bug Himmel’s meeting. A deadly chase across Washington follows.
The only way Voigt can get out from under is to head to New Mexico to find the spy at Los Alamos. Putting him front and centre at one of the most momentous events in history. He has no idea of the Manhattan Project and the role the bomb is about to play in the war. Yet nothing is quite what it seems, where the truth lies will only become evident in the last few pages. Voigt is a man with his own motives for playing this game but does that make him a traitor? Can he trusted to catch the spy?
The beauty of this novel is that Voigt could be playing a double game, maybe even a triple game, with the reader as much in the dark as the FBI and the NKVD. This makes Rip the Angles from Heaven tense and much more exciting than a straightforward hunt for a spy. There are twists aplenty and Voigt may be one of the most complex characters in the complex field of espionage.
The dialogue is snappy, hardboiled and totally of the time. The location, the mind set of the period and the hyper-tense atmosphere of the burgeoning Cold War and Los Alamos are brilliantly realised. Bearing in mind Russia was still an ally at this point.
It’s a great mix of fact and fiction and a stunning work of research. This is a thriller that will leave you breathless. A really decent, intelligent spy story that comes from the real world.
Paul Burke 4/4
Rip the Angels from Heaven by David Krugler
Pegasus 9781681777788 hbk Jul 2018
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