House of the Hunted

Written by Mark Mills
Review by Ellen Keith

In 1919 Petrograd, Tom Nash is a young British agent with a plan to free his Russian girlfriend from prison. His efforts are in vain, and Irina is executed. Flash forward to 1935, and Tom is living a reclusive life in the south of France, the neighbor of Leonard, his former superior, and godfather to Leonard’s stepdaughter Lucy, who is just turning 21. Tom is 39, and when Lucy returns to France from Oxford for her birthday, there’s a subtle change to their relationship, apparent to everyone but Lucy and Tom. This is no romance, though. Tom’s peaceful summer is shattered when an attempt is made on his life. He and Leonard realize the botched attack is connected to Tom’s past as an intelligence agent. Tom must marshal his wits to prevent further attempts, determine which of his friendly neighbors is his enemy, and protect those he loves.

This is one of those books that proves the past is ever-present, whether it’s a career that can never be shrugged off, or the realization that a life has been a lie. Mills has crafted an engrossing story about both betrayal and loyalty. There is a twist that I won’t reveal, but after I finished the book, I needed to read it a second time to appreciate its intricate plot. I love books that assume the intelligence of the reader. Mills not only excels at plot but at characters as well. With a few well-chosen words, he brings Lucy’s sharp-tongued mother to life as well as the seemingly ineffectual but actually shrewd Leonard and tormented Tom. I could, in fact, read this book a third time just for the pleasure of Mills’ prose.