MARCH 1945. KGB Lieutenant Victor Saranov is rounding up and shooting Axis collaborators and dissidents in Rumania. He believes the war is over. His spymaster, Colonel Malikov, insists it is just beginning -- against the capitalist West. Which, he explains, has left the Soviet Union fifty years behind by inventing long-range rockets, jet aircraft, radar, submarine detectors, magnetic tape, medicines like penicillin. Now they have a secret superbomb that can wipe out whole populations which they will use to annihilate Communism. Saranov witnesses the KGB colonel save a gifted boy, Ivan Lupescu, from a firing-squad and disappear mysteriously with him to Moscow.
APRIL 1997. Saranov's daughter, Katya, arrives in London to identify her father, found dead in a train compartment. She is met by Gillespie, an SIS agent posing as a detective, and tells him the dead man is not her father, but an unknown. He reveals the man has been murdered.
A coded diary found on the body leads Gillespie to an Aldermaston physicist who worked on the Los Alamos atom bomb and was probably involved in the Fuchs-Rosenberg spy ring. This physicist, Kuhlmann, is found dead soon after his encounter with Gillespie.
Gradually, Gillespie discovers KGB Colonel Malikov has mounted an Operation Kukushka (Cuckoo) to condition and programme spies in Moscow then plant them in strategic roles in Britain to gather and pass secret military and commercial intelligence.
Working with his spymaster, Ratclyffe-Pitts, (whom he detests) Gillespie unmasks members of the Kukushka ring -- an industrialist peer, a high-ranking defence ministry official, an MP who sits on several influential committees. But they cannot identify the pivotal Kukushka agent.
Katya, who has fallen in love with Gillespie and works with him, is kidnapped and tortured. Gillespie himself is attacked by Godwin, a KGB exterminator, and all but murdered. He is saved by Saranov, who has escaped from the gulag where he was imprisoned after the fall of Communism. He is the one man who can identify Lupescu, the boy Malikov saved; he is now believed to be at the top of the Kukushka pyramid. Saranov teams up with Gillespie to save his daughter, then track down Lupescu.
It becomes a race to identify Lupescu before Godwin eliminates him to prevent exposure of the spy ring. Already he has killed Kuhlmann, and now murders his lover, the defence ministry official; he threatens the peer and frightens the MP into committing suicide.
Saranov and Gillespie discover the master spy is Lord Havelock, a press magnate who is using his magazine chain as a front for gathering and transmitting secrets. They gain entrance to his manor house and are confronting him and his putative mother when Godwin arrives, takes them prisoner and prepares to blow them and the building into oblivion thus erasing all traces of Kukushka.
Only Saranov and Gillespie manage to escape from the blast and fire that destroy the manor house. When Katya is reunited with them, they realise Ratclyffe-Pitts has duped them by kidnapping her in order to manipulate them into breaking the spy ring apart.
However, Gillespie turns the tables on his spyrmaster, threatening to tell all about Kukushka, expose SIS weaknesses and create a political scandal unless Ratclyffe-Pitts agrees to his demands including assuring Saranov's future.


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