Page 45 Review by Stephen
"That's what happens when you're ordered to kill your own husband on your honeymoon, it turns out. You lose your mind."
1973. There is a Britain-based espionage agency called ARC-7 so secret that most other ops don't even know it exists. Within that service there are field agents who are not names but numbers, and at its heart lies the Director. The Director has a secretary with long, sable hair now distinguished with a thick, white streak of maturity. She is his eyes, she is his ears but for so many years she was something else: one of ARC-7s most effective field operatives. So deep was her cover that even ARC's agents aren't aware of her former activities. And that may prove the undoing of whichever infiltrator has just set her up for treachery, treason and murder.
Throughout VELVET VOL 1 Velvet Templeton has been on the run from her own agency, desperately retracing assassinated Agent X-14's steps and contacts across Eastern Europe while cross-referencing what she discovers with her own substantial and at times painful history in order to work out why Agent X was murdered from within. What had he discovered that made him such a threat? Was it the same thing that her husband discovered? Because he too was set up and Templeton took the fall so far for it that she almost didn't recover.
But Velvet's been thinking things through and now she's done running. She's going to do the one thing they'll least expect. She's going to turn right around, breeze back into London and head straight into the lion's den: ARC-7's highly secure headquarters. And for that she will require a bomb and some far from voluntary help from the Director.
"Velvet... what is this about?"
"I really do wish I could tell you... because it's not you I don't trust."
"You know what you sound like? Like every operative who ever got lost down their own rabbit hole."
At which point I refer you back to the opening sentiments.
Brubaker's internal monologues have always been compelling, individualistic and often fucked up affairs - in CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT et al - but here you're almost as much in the dark as Velvet is, learning as she goes along, so you're even more emotionally invested than usual. Several times I found myself suspicious of what I was being told because it sounded almost too perfect but with the strangest gaps (why, for example, so-and-so hadn't been offed when everyone around him had) and I wondered if I was missing something.
I was. But then so was Velvet.
During the final two chapters you will have your head whipped round not once, not twice, but three times in swift succession and at exactly the same moment as Velvet's because these people she's up against are so deviously clever and who is playing whom at any given moment is far from obvious.
As I mention in VELVET VOL 1, Breitweiser's colours have always been one of the title's great draws. Here she introduces some of the more expressionistic effects which have lit up the THE FADE OUT and helped draw the eye. However, so much of this takes place at night that you may be enjoying the results without necessarily noticing their cause.
As to Epting, once more his eye for period detail - from vehicles to lounge furniture and a particularly posh, trans-European train dining car - makes one deeply nostalgic for a 1970s I really wouldn't want to revisit if the truth be told. It's just fortunate that Velvet Templeton's always had a better fashion sense than most and I almost wept when she had to ditch that knee-length, black and white pashmina cardigan. I'm very emotional, aren't I?
Epting's also exceptional at age and Velvet is certainly showing hers. She's not slowing down - she cannot afford to - but that face could not belong to a thirty-year-old and quite right too. This is a period espionage thriller starring a woman with decades' experience at the agency. It's this very history which is revisited which informs her psychological makeup and the whole point of the plot.
Astonishing, then, that an America television channel was so keen to sign up the series... as long as they could turn our Templeton into her twenties. Or maybe not.