Score: 92+/100 (9.2+ out of 10)
Bucharest Legacy is a captivating spy thriller by William Maz. It is full political intrigue. It is also inspired by history and real-life events like the 1989 Romanian Revolution that saw the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu, the fall of the USSR, the rough transition toward capitalism and democracy, and even some allusions to continued McCarthyism and the Red Scare.
The book follows a retired CIA agent (and Bucharist native) named William “Bill” Hefflin. He had been recruited to Langley by his eventual wife, Catherine, while at Harvard. Throughout the book, we get glimpses into Hefflin's arduous and intriguing journey to the United States and to becoming a secret agent. We learn about a prophecy he was given by a Romanian psychic that he'd have to come home someday to save the one he loves. We learn about his journey to Greece.
As interesting as these things might be, the real interest lies in the chaos and drama of the spy-versus-spy espionage dynamic. There are so many twists and turns. It's almost too much to follow!
You have double agents, triple agents, and probably quadruple-plus agents! It's both fascinating and frustrating wondering where everyone's loyalties lie. Who is telling the truth? Who is telling lies? And, perhaps more importantly: who is right and who is wrong?
There's a constant ethical/moral argument about where Romania (and humanity/the world) is heading. People are trapped between competing socio-political and economic ideologies. Despite the great promises of capitalism, there is still great poverty. The author does a good job at displaying that, but also being fair in showing how disastrous communism had also been in the country, leading to destitution and food shortages. There are times in this novel when people dig in the trash just to feed themselves and their families. Despite the great promises of the newfound “democracy,” people are still slaves to the new tyrants: the oligarchs, the ones who buy their way into power.
These are conflicts and ideas that resound today, especially in the areas formerly under the USSR. Look at what just happened with the Wagner Group and Putin with a peace negotiated by Belarus. Look at the war between Russia and Ukraine. Look at the cultural divides between the extreme left and the extreme right in America that bring about riots and violence.
So, this is a book that carries a lot of weight.
Hefflin is dragged out of retirement and into a hunt for an informant/defector/mole/potential triple-agent named Boris.
Much of this book is Hefflin's meticulous unveiling of who Boris might really be through the course of investigation and interrogation. This get Hefflin entangled in a complicated conspiracy in which some consider if he might be the one to distrust, if he might be the man on the inside.
Despite these high stakes and the weight of some of these themes, this book is actually a bit light and silly. Yes, that also means it can be fun (and funny) at times. For example, whenever Hefflin is sparring with and eventually fighting women, he is constantly distracted by their feminine wiles. It's very James Bond/007-ish in that sense. Similar to Bond movies, there's a bit of absurdist, over-the-top shenanigans that you probably wouldn't see in other works of fiction.
Another thing that kinda holds this book back is how slow-developing the first 3/4ths are, building toward something that we hope will eventually happen: a shootout, a big fight, some explosions, a melee, a brawl. There is some of that, but a lot of it is crammed into the last fourth of the book. It's up to you (and the author) to hold/save your interest until then.
You can check this out on Amazon!