By: Haley Holmes
The third book by Tom Rob Smith and the finale to his Leo Demidov trilogy, Agent 6 stands out as his strongest (and longest) book to date. A novel of secret agents and suspense fit to rival James Bond, Agent 6 stands out as an incredible and unique form of suspense and intrigue.
Born in Smith’s first novel, Child 44, Leo Demidov has come a long way. Originating as a top-notch MGB/KGB agent in Soviet Russia, Leo is now a mere consultant, and a teacher of new agents. His incredible fall (from what can only be considered Soviet grace) began a long time before the timeline of Agent 6. Though the final book contains minor recaps in the first few chapters, it mainly covers a story entirely separate from the two previous novels. It initially takes place in 1950, prior to the events of the first novel. With the first two books in this trilogy taking place only within the USSR and only within the span of about a few weeks or months, Agent 6 marks incredible change. Starting its first chapter in Moscow in 1950, it moves quickly to New York in 1965, and then to Leo’s new position in Afghanistan in 1980, before ending again in Moscow, in 1981. Maintaining a lessened focus on Leo himself at the start, Agent 6 still follows his story. The first half of the novel is spent building up and tearing down everything that Leo had ever loved in his life. Though Child 44 killed Leo’s belief in his country, it left him tolerant of it. The Secret Speech built his love of family and still lessened his hope for a functioning Soviet Union. In Agent 6, the family he loved so dearly is torn apart, and his dwindling nationalism is turned into severe and crippling nihilism. All of Smith’s novels are meant to cover Leo’s personal change, the differences between nationalism and ignorance, and the state of family. Agent 6 stands as the starkest example of Smith’s common themes. Though not without its flaws, Agent 6 holds its own more than well enough to been seen as alive in its own right; separate yet intimately connected to the novels it follows.
Hitting close to 530 pages, Agent 6 may seem like a lot to handle, but Smith’s eloquent writing style and short chapters (many never reaching ten pages in length) make the novel a breeze. Though the story and characters are incredibly engaging, a casual reader may be taken aback by certain proclivities in Smith’s writing style. First of all, not uncommon in his work but extremely prevalent in Agent 6, Smith shifts from character to character and decade to decade in the span of less than ten pages. Each chapter is practically a novel in and of itself. With such a nonlinear story line, readers may need to take caution before venturing into this novel. Nevertheless, it also serves to keep interest up. When one character’s chapter ends in climax and intrigue, another will begin or end. There are no flat points, no moments of bland inaction. Smith’s work truly is alive. However, compared to the length of his chapters, Smith’s sentences can be a mouthful, likely only noticeable by an adept reader. Smith fails to adequately vary his sentence structure, weaving long sentences without balancing them out with short ones. On occasion it is annoying; looking upon a paragraph made up of commas that would do better with periods. Nonetheless, Smith’s diction and imagery are so incredibly vivid, the scenes and characters feel so tangible and real, that the long sentences are hardly worth mentioning in the grander scheme of things. In addition to the long sentences and short chapters, there is one detail that may be off-putting to some: Smith does not use quotation marks. Instead, each section of character speech is signified by a new paragraph starting with a hyphen, followed by all speech written in italics. Though not a real “problem”, it is a style unique to Smith, one that may take some getting used to.
Overall, despite the simple stylistic differences that may make Smith’s novels seem intimidating, nothing can compare to the strength of his prose. With characters fashioned out of imagination and skill, they seem as real as ink and paper they were born in. Tom Rob Smith has only just begun his career in writing, and already he has surpassed many. Agent 6 is the epic coup de grâce that a trilogy of this caliber truly deserves. From his first novel, Child 44, through The Secret Speech and Agent 6, Tom Rob Smith has only gained momentum, leaving not one shred of his novels anything but electrifying and ingenious.