Counterstroke is about a British actor, Bob Farran, who is still dealing with the effects of his wife's passing from leukemia when he reads in the paper of the abduction of Sally Morland, who is the wife of a rising member of Parliament. Her abductors are a group of anarchists, and they demand the release of a member of their group, known to authorities as Tom Lacey, in exchange for her. Her husband's offer of a quarter-million pounds is scorned by the anarchists, but not by Farran, who approaches Scotland Yard with the idea of him impersonating Lacey (in exchange for that reward), so that a dangerous robber is not set free, and the government doesn't lose face for negotiating.
Somewhat to his surprise, the authorities go with it, and the preparation begins. That takes us slightly past the halfway point, and the remainder of the book is concerned with the exchange, and Farran trying to figure out a way to escape while maintaining his disguise in the meantime. Then the aftermath.
Garve handles that fairly well, with Farran struggling with the limits of what he could learn about Lacey in a few days, and how to avoid blowing his cover to people who had known him for much longer. I was especially impressed with how he handled all the prep work. He was able to give a good picture of what Farran would need to know, the problems he'd face, the solutions available, but did so quickly. There are some books where the author spends too much time going into detail and everything bogs down. Garve only has 178 pages, so he doesn't waste time.
Farran's the only character that gets any serious fleshing out, but that works out. Everyone else is there to move the plot along, but this is mostly about Farran trying to pull himself out of depression through work. His wife died, I think he didn't feel much like working, preferring to drink, and now he's looking for work, but the drinking hadn't subsided and it's making employment difficult. So he takes a chance. Maybe it's desperation, or boredom, or just a cash flow issue, but it gets him moving, and at a certain point, the thing takes on a momentum of its own within him.
'I slipped the phial into my trousers pocket. I tried to think of some crack to relieve the strained silence in the car, but couldn't. The planning and the theorizing were over, and this was the moment of truth. What had started as an intriguing though, a stimulating idea, had suddenly become a frightening reality.'