Monday, July 19, 2010
Dead Spy Running by Jon Stock
The story opens with disgraced and suspended MI6 agent Daniel Marchant running the London Marathon with his girlfriend, Leila who is also a British secret agent. Marchant spies (sorry I couldn't help myself) a runner who appears to be wearing a belt laden with explosives. In his efforts to save the US Ambassador who is also participating in the marathon and countless others from being killed, Marchant manages to further discredit himself, and finds himself hunted by intelligence agencies from both sides of the Atlantic.
As with most books of this ilk, the characters are paper thin. But it doesn't really matter. The sense of place is good. The story mostly takes place in London and Delhi. Stock captures the essence of both places well, especially the dirty heat and bustle of Delhi. Stock uses clever plot devices to keep the pace up and the readers interest piqued. The action switches between the spies on the ground to the spy chiefs of the various international agencies wrestling for dominance. Many of the chapters end in a breathless cliffhanger.
The story is set post London underground bombings and so features modern tensions and "enemies." The plot does all of the spy stuff well: disguises, tailing and counter surveillance, and answered any questions I might have had about water boarding and what it entails.
I do not know why spy novels continue to captivate me. The first I remember reading and loving was Ken Follett's The Man From St Petersburg. The best I have read in recent times is William Boyd's Restless. I can only speculate that there is something about maintaining a dual identity that is universally appealing and thrilling at some level. Dead Spy Running is not exceptional or life changing, but it delivers what it intends: a fast paced, cleverly plotted story that is pretty much guaranteed to keep the pages turning during even the most tedious flight.