By Jean Van Hamme and Philippe Aymond
“Suzan and her father are taking a well-deserved break in the south of France. But their holidays are cut short when several men burst into the house and kidnap James Fitzroy. What Suzie doesn’t know is that the attackers are actually CIA operatives: The Agency is offended by the existence of an unofficial European counterterrorist outfit. But in their attempt to use Lady S. to draw her employers out, it’s the American spooks who may be made the fools…”
The third volume in Van Hamme’s saga of a reluctant female spy takes us in a strange and rather unexpected direction, and gives me the best read so far in the series.
Volume 1 (review) was an enjoyable intro to the life of Suzan Fitzroy, adopted daughter and principal assistant to James Fitzroy, the roving US ambassador in Europe. Her past as a thief has been used against her by the mysterious CATRIG (Centre for Anti-Terrorism Research and Intelligence Gathering), and she’s set to work as a high class spy.
But when I last read her exploits in Volume 2 (review) it proved a real disappointment, and I referred to Van Hamme’s story as “merely a shadow of what he’s done before“, calling it a “thriller by the numbers” and ending with “the inevitable attempted plot twist is sloppy and telegraphed almost from the off“. So, either Van Hamme was having an off day or I was, but I stand by the review. Whenever I open a Van Hamme book, expectations are almost ridiculously high, possibly too high, maybe I just expect too much every time?
And maybe, just maybe, knowing I hadn’t enjoyed Lady S. Volume 2 meant I went into this one not expecting all that much? Which might be why the change around in the story, the unexpected shift from yet another mission seemed fresh and interesting?
Because this is essentially a “what Suzie did on her holiday story“, where that nasty old C.I.A., complete with the nasty old, fat, and bloaty boss, gets wind of the CATRIG organisation and, determined to root them out, arranges for Suzie’s adopted dad to be kidnapped. A big, big mistake on their part.
Suddenly, instead of being in control of the situation, the C.I.A. is on the backfoot at every turn (and there are lots of turns), as they work to protect Suzie, work to thwart the C.I.A. plot, knowing that by doing so, Suzie’s dad will be released. What it becomes is a series of journeys for Suzie, escaping the clutches of the US agents and the French police, who’ve finally made the connection between Suzie now and the thief she used to be, with everyone along Suzie’s journey seemingly proving to be an agent of CATRIG… even the dear old lady on the bus:
So instead of spending all volume on a mission, Suzie spends it being subtly moved around by CATRIG, obviously in complete control of the situation.
Eventually she’ll find herself at their secret HQ, and it’s secret is a lovely twist on the spying game, with elements of classic spy stories thrown in. I’m loath to blow the pleasant surprise of this, but my only regret is that Aymond, whose art is (as before) a gloriously controlled, always perfectly paced and very tight affair, didn’t play with the idea a little more and do what a lot of artists would and filled every scene at CATRIG HQ with old, familiar faces.
So, Lady S. Volume 3 proves to be another top notch Van Hamme thriller, albeit a slow paced, almost tongue in cheek thriller. It surprised and delighted. After the disappointment of Volume 2, it’s a pleasure to get back on track.