THE THROW AWAY. Michael Moreci. Tom Doherty.

Cover courtesy of Tom Doherty.

A favorite protagonist in spy novels is the “Poor Schlub,” hereinafter referred to as the PS. The PS is some guy who gets catapulted into a vast, dark, conspiratorial mystery in which the major players are vague, malign presences, while allegiances shift like Jello in a blender, In sum, the universe is reduced to hoping Arthur Dent can fix the mess, or at least spackle it. In such fiction, most PSes extricate themselves more-or-less by accident, tripping over a plot device while running with scissors, subsequently stabbing the supervillain, who was cleverly disguised as a common house cat. And just like that the world gets saved.

But not all PSes are utterly gormless. Some, in fact, are quite gorm-ful, and that usually makes for a more interesting story. Heinlein’s “Glory Road” is a good example of this kind of story. If “Scar” Gordon were just some witless surfer dude from Santa Monica, it wouldn’t be a very good book. But Gordon turns out to be resourceful, and eventually becomes a hero – ensuring the continuation of the known universe in addition to Heinlein’s career as a writer.

In Michael Moreci’s The Throw Away, the PS-protagonist is a Washington lobbyist named Mark Strain. He is a young, sleek, professional, and very good at his job. In the high-stakes world of Washington lobbying, that means he is determined, resourceful, and more than a little bit vicious.

In the story, his wife one day suddenly announces she’s pregnant, which turns Strain misty-eyed and leaves him thinking about a quiet life in Virginia. But first, he has to blackmail this one Senator. Not surprislingly, the very next day he is grabbed by men in black, and soon finds himself on a CIA plane bound for Russia, to be returned to the Russian government as part of a spy swap.

There’s just one problem. He is not, and never has been, a Russian spy. He has no contacts with Russia, no interest in helping Russia, and doesn’t even speak the language – something that doesn’t seem to impress the governments of either country, which respectively brand him a traitor to America, and a national hero to all the Russias. The fact that Russia has decided to so lionize him is the only thing keeping him alive, but that’s not a very tenable situation, and it won’t continue. Mark Stain knows he has to up his game from “Arthur PS” to “Gordon Hero,” and he has to do it fast.

Moreci’s The Throw Away is full of sharp plot twists that will keep readers on a course to have to know what happens next. In terms of spy novels, that’s about as good as it gets.