The greatest secret of America’s intelligence agencies is SENTINEL: a computer intelligence, a thinking intelligence, far advanced and in control of American intelligence operations. Only the president and a select few know it even exists, other than the men and women who run it. Its agents are modified with special neuro-implants, allowing them to communicate directly with the computer and giving them increased intelligence; they are never aware that they are speaking to a machine more capable than any human could ever be. They are aware, however, that those implants are explosives that SENTINEL can detonate on a whim.
Justin Chaple is one agent of SENTINEL. His dedication to his country’s security has cost his his marriage; he’s losing touch with normality, and with it his young son Michael. Swirling around him is a world of intrigue and betrayal. A SENTINEL spy is gunned down in England, one of three who’s cover has been blown. Justin’s one of the other two, and he’s sent out to collect a journal that the dead agent was beginning to translate. That leaves him the closest agent to a Soviet spymaster looking to defect to the West, after being denounced by a competitor; the only trouble is that Justin has to pull him out from under the watchful eye of the CIA. Meanwhile, one of SENTINEL’s creators attempts to defect to the Soviet Union, eager for more power and prestige. And behind it all lurks a shocking Nazi conspiracy that threatens the world, its history and goals hidden in one missing journal…
Within a few chapters, it’s clear that Mykel is less influenced by John le Carre and more by Ian Fleming—and at times, I wondered if it was originally geared for the men’s action-adventure market. Mykel excels at the action and intrigue portions, with twists coming often to surprise the reader and throw another complication into the plot. He’s weaker with character development and drama—for example, see the scene where Justin is confronted by his estranged wife, a predictable scene that seems forced into the narrative because cliche and expectations demanded it. The dialogue in scenes like this can be cringe-worthy. The occasional flare of gory violence can be over-the-top, as are the more frequent sex-scenes… The latter have a romance-writer feel with some of the descriptions, all Justin’s organ this and fiery passion that, when the sex isn’t edgy or risque (see the turncoat Soviet spy caught in a honeypot by a KGB agent dressed up like a 13-year-old girl, or the SENTINEL agent who seduces a gay Soviet soldier).
The writing, though, is better than Fleming’s simple prose; the original blurbs heralded Mykel as the new Ludlum, and The Windchime Legacy certainly has a Ludlum feel to it—not just from the title, but from the writing style and plotting as well. It also foreshadows later techno-thriller writers like Clancy and Crichton, blending near-future technology with contemporary issues. The novel starts off more as a pure Cold War spy thriller, but later on the conspiracy begins to take shape, and as Justin is drawn further into the confidence of SENTINEL’s leadership he begins to learn much about this powerful technology, and the novel takes the shape of a techno-thriller. There’s a lot of good plotting in the novel; it binds together three main plots—the duality of a defective Soviet spy and a defective American programmer with a looming Nazi plot, which the novel foreshadows well with the journal entries that introduce each chapter. There’s enough here for three novels, and I suspect had it be published a decade earlier it may well have been a set of slim paperbacks.
The blurbs and marketing are quick to point out the mystery behind the “A.W. Mykel” pseudonym, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the “Mykel” was an author more famous in another genre trying to branch out… Maybe a romance writer, from the sex scenes that give the novel a “romance for men” feel, or a mainstream author in need of a paycheck or trying to break into a popular genre. Whoever he is, Mykel only wrote four books before disappearing back into the realm of mystery—Brash Books even had to hire a P.I. to offer a reprint deal. I’ve heard that his best book is his third, The Luxus Conspiracy, though I wouldn’t know for sure: none of Mykel’s books have been reprinted and are thus are rare finds on the secondary market.
While The Windchime Legacy creaks under pressure of age and has a few clumsy flaws, it’s a solid and often thrilling espionage adventure. The story dives across three plots—enough plot for three novels!—as Cold War spies play their games of cat and mouse, filled with plenty of unforeseen twists and action. The final twists comes a bit late in the book, but the entire novel builds up to them nicely. The Windchime Legacy is a look back at Cold War popular culture, to a time when the Soviet Union was the great enemy of western intelligence agents; not only is it very much in tune with its era, but it’s also the kind of spy novel they don’t make any more, and I’m not just talking about geopolitics. It’s certainly a step above those men’s action-adventure novels, and even Fleming, and will provide readers several nights of gripping entertainment.
Title: The Windchime Legacy
Author: A.W. Mykel (pseud.)
Publisher: Brash Books
Release Date: Aug 2015
What I Read: ebook
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC recieved through NetGalley)
ISBN/ASIN: 194129880X / B00Y7J1E32
First published: 1980