Private Wars

Reviewed: May 17, 2007
By: Greg Rucka
Publisher: Bantam Books
503 pages, $9.99

Greg Rucka is a very busy scribe who has just finished being part of the writing team on an ambitious comic book project - a weekly book called 52 - for DC Comics. He has also been the writer for a wide variety of books, including Superman, Batman, Spider-man and the X-Men.

Aside from that work, he has produced a number of thriller genre novels, including six volumes in the Atticus Kodiak series, one of which I have reviewed here, and a second series called Queen and Country, which enjoys a narrative existence in two worlds.

ONI press publishes the comic book version of Queen and Country. I haven’t seen any of these, although the material on the author’s website looks interesting.

There have also been two novels, and Private Wars is the second of these.

The Queen and Country series chronicles the work of Tara Chace, a British secret service agent who is a Minder (assassin, special ops agent) for that unnamed agency. There are three Minders and Chace is apparently ranked number 2 or 1, depending on which book you’re reading.

I have not seen A Gentleman’s Game, but it apparently tells the story of an operation gone sour, which ended up with Chace injured and pregnant and with her lover dead. Private Wars contains sufficient backstory to allow us to move on with the character and not feel lost.

Predictably, it is the story of how Chace returns to the service, and how she deals with the demons she needs to exorcise after her last bad experience.

The novel does not focus on her exclusively. In a style reminiscent of the early John LeCarre novels or the work of John Gardner (the British spy writer, not the American novelist and academic) Rucka has us spend time with Chace’s boss, with her enemies, and with some supporting cast characters who provide us with insights we might not otherwise have.

There are essentially two operations in this story, both of which take place mostly in the former Soviet puppet state of Uzbekistan, which is portrayed here as being run by a family based oligarchy masked by an illusion of democracy and held together by the use of military force and secret police black ops. The strongman leader, President Malikov, is dying, and various western nations are choosing sides as to who they will back, the son or the daughter, to succeed him. In the midst of all this, the British and the Americans chose different sides and Chace is sent in to rescue the son, Ruslan, and his son, Stefan, from the machinations of Severa and her head of security, Zahidov.

That plan goes badly and Chace is taken during the operation, saved only by the intervention of the Americans. Later, however, she is the best choice to assist in negotiations to reunite Ruslan and his son after Severa has consolidated her power base.

Aside from Chace’s own challenges in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, where she has to chose between her assignment and her urge to settle some private scores, we are privy to the internal office politics and power struggles within the Secret Intelligence Service, a sidebar plot which adds a bit of spice to the story.