It was supposed to be the perfect crime, but when Rearden was set up, he went to prison, then broke out -- and that's when his troubles really began. It was Mackintosh who set up the heist for Rearden: steal a mail delivery of diamonds. But Rearden was set up, and the police were waiting at his flat before he could leave the country. Even though he knows Mackintosh sold him out, Rearden isn't a snitch. So he went away for twenty years.
Once inside, Rearden keeps his head down until he's approached by Cosgrove, another inmate, who is connected to a gang that he says can break Rearden out, for a price. Rearden decides to pay the gang and on the appointed day, he and Slade, an inmate who is also a Russian spy, get hauled over the fence on a cherry-picker. Freedom awaits!
Or so you'd think. It turns out Rearden is a government spy, who did the crime and got caught on purpose, so he could infiltrate the gang that broke him out. His real name isn't even Rearden -- it's Stannard -- and Mackintosh is his boss in the intelligence service.
The problem is the gang figures out that Rearden is a phony identity, and they hold Stannard in a mansion hideaway in Ireland after the prison break. He escapes from that, too, and connects with Mackintosh's secretary, the lovely Alison Smith, and discovers that Mackintosh has been in a car accident after his cover was blown. Together, Stannard and Smith try to piece together Mackintosh's overarching goal: to take down an Albanian millionaire named Wheeler, who is a KGB plant inside Parliament, poised to become prime minister.
Stannard and Smith find out Wheeler is on a ship in Gibraltar, meeting with Slade and other criminal associates. They track him slowly and hatch a plan, though Stannard gets himself caught the first night they're all there. Smith rescues him, and the next night they succeed in blowing up the ship. Mackintosh died later, without knowing the mission was a success. But Stannard got a six-week vacation with Smith, which is more than enough time to win her affections.
Best part of story, including ending:
The twist in the middle of the book is quite a shocker. You think you're reading about a thief trying to break out of prison, then bam! It's a spy novel about Russians inflitrating the British government. That's more than most books give you.
Best scene in story:
When Rearden gets arrested for the diamond theft, he knows right away that someone informed on him, but he refuses to budge, revealing nothing about his co-conspirators even as he faces a twenty-year sentence. That's commitment to the "don't snitch" ethos.
Opinion about the main character:
Rearden/Stannard is nothing if not devoted to his mission. Not only did he risk twenty years in prison, he stopped at nothing to track down and destroy his and his employer's enemies after he got out.