I have mixed emotions about this book. I enjoyed it a lot, much of the action takes place at the hight of the Cold War which is a period of history that I have a big interest in, the writing quality is superb, the author clearly knows his profession, and how to utilize the written word for maximum effect. The writing style reminded me a great deal of one of my favorite Cold War authors, John LeCarre. So why do I have these mixed emotions?

I have given this some serious thought over the past few days, and I think I have found the source of my troubles. It stems from the duality of the plot lines. Bear Any Burden is part a family history, and part a Cold War thriller. The flip flopping between the action and the historical component is an oft used tool in a writers toolbox. Usually though it is easy to segregate the active plot from the passive historical contextual plot. That is not the case with Bear Any Burden, both plots are active.

Although there is a strong connection between the Cold War side of the book and the historical family story, I personally feel that more could have been written about the Cold War plot, and the family history written in a more passive voice. Oh my goodness, I sound like an English Literature teacher, and that is something I vowed I would not do. I had enough of those kinds of lessons at the English Grammar School I attended a hundred years ago!

So, lets move on to the plot itself, it is 1983 and the Cold War is at its peak, the main character is Sir Alex Campbell, the head of an international drinks company. His plan is to import Vodka from Poland a commodity that he feels will further his companies global reach. Sir Alex also occasionally helps out his friends  in the Secret Service, delivering little packages for them while traveling on business, something he does a great deal of. He is not surprised when he is approached to make a small delivery while in Poland. The mission is simple, he will use a carry on bag supplied to him, it will have a false bottom that contains some money and two passports.  The passports and money are to assist a Polish scientist and his wife to defect to the west.

Sir Alex is to wait at his hotel and someone will knock on his door, they will have an identical bag, and they will trade. Nothing could be simpler, and certainly does not seem to involve much danger, the only potential issue will be the customs check. But Sir Alex is such a frequent traveler and so well known  it is unlikely that he will receive more than a cursory check by the authorities.

Indeed the border presents no problem, Sir Alex sails through using his distinguished aplomb. His problems start to spiral out of control at the hotel though. Sir Alex needs to make a huge decision, to turn and run, or pay any price and bear any burden. He can run to safety, no one knows of his involvement,  and he will be long gone by the time any even tenuous link to him can be made. Or should he stay and become a part of what almost certainly will be a life or death struggle?

I doubt I am writing a spoiler of the plot to reveal that his decision is to stay and try to help the nuclear scientist and his wife find their way to freedom. Part action thriller, and part exploration of his past, Sir Alex must face his personal demons, both old and new.

This is a book that deserves to receive some attention, the quality of writing can not be questioned. If you know someone that enjoys a good spy story give them a copy for Christmas, I know that they will love it.

You can pick up your copy of Bear Any Burden from Amazon.

Simon Barrett


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