Monday, July 19, 2010

Dead Spy Running by Jon Stock

I have been away and picked this one up to read on the plane.  I am very particular when it comes to reading while travelling on planes.  The book needs to be easy and gripping so as to distract me from the bumping around, slight claustrophobia and noise of plane travel.  I usually end up with a spy novel or other thriller.  Dead Spy Running by British author and journalist Jon Stock is no literary masterpiece nor does it set out to be.  It is however a taut modern espionage drama and I really enjoyed it.

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.


  1. Once in a while you need one of those guilty pleasure books - there is nothing wrong with it and some are quite enjoyable. If you ever get to pick up novels by Ted Bell, they are page turners with quite unbelievable plots and out of this world characters.

  2. Sounds very exciting and I glad it served you well on the plane. The best spy book I have ever read was The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett


Comments are very welcome.