Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dunn Deal

The international news media often make much of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States on matters of geopolitics, especially when it applies to the covert world of espionage and “black operations.” We all know about the rumored links between the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI6) and America’s Central Intelligence Agency, with analogous alliances between those organizations’ “eyes and ears,” the GCHQ and NSA, respectively. And who can forget how ex-White House occupant George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair talked up that special relationship while forming the military coalition that brought wars to both Afghanistan and (based on lies about “weapons of mass destruction”) Iraq?

This week, though, the UK/U.S. special relationship enjoys fictional treatment in Matthew Dunn’s debut work of “espionage noir,” Spycatcher (Morrow)--or as it’s known on this side of the Atlantic, Spartan (released under publisher Orion’s new Swordfish imprint).

I was initially put off Dunn’s novel by the clichés in its jacket copy:
At the height of the Iranian revolution, a British MI6 agent, James Cochrane, gave his life for his two closest friends--one a fellow British officer, the other a senior CIA operative. Caught in a sting, he chose to walk into the trap set for them so that his friends could escape. The man who set up that sting was then a young Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Today he is better known as Megiddo--the world’s most wanted international terrorist mastermind. Thirty years later, Will Cochrane may work for M16 but he doesn’t enjoy playing by the rules his bosses set him. His controller Alastair knows that Will is a wild card and should be thrown out of the service, but his very unpredictability may be just the weapon the West needs to bring down its most ruthless enemy, particularly when Will discovers that Megiddo was the very man responsible for his own father’s horrific death. When Will discovers that M16 have tracked down a woman who once had an affair with the young Iranian guard, he knows that he can use her to set a trap. She has to be persuaded to lure Megiddo out from the shadows in which he moves, but he may have other plans, for as per his biblical namesake, he is planning an attack on the West the likes of which the world has never seen. The stakes could not be higher.
But as a big reader of espionage fiction (especially works by writers who have come from the looking-glass world and try to portray the realistic angle of spying), I was intrigued by the explanation of the author’s history:
Matthew Dunn was trained by SIS in all aspects of intelligence collection and direct action including agent running, deep-cover deployments, small-arms, explosives, military unarmed combat, surveillance, anti-surveillance, counter-surveillance, advanced driving, infiltration and exfiltration techniques and covert communications. He used his skills extensively on operations. Although typically he worked alone, ... in conducting near seventy missions, he also had significant experience of working with highly specialized units from the SAS and SBS as well as conducting joint-operations with MI5, GCHQ and the CIA. Medals are never awarded to modern MI6 officers, but Dunn was the recipient of a very rare personal commendation from the Foreign Secretary for actions that directly influenced the successful conclusion of a major international incident. He lives in England.
What finally persuaded me to grab up Spycatcher/Spartan from my maddeningly lofty reading pile was a conversation I had about the book with novelist Lee Child during the recent Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, and his blurb emblazoned on the jacket: “Great talent, great imagination, and real been-there, done-that authenticity make this one of the year’s best thriller debuts.”

Without understanding the consequences, I made the mistake of starting Dunn’s novel at 10 o’clock last evening. In no time flat my mind was trapped by the turns of this intense thriller. The storytelling was as dark as the coffee I sipped through the night, keeping myself awake in order to discover how the tale would be resolved. I must say, this is one of the most startling thriller debuts I’ve encountered in years. Spycatcher/Spartan is right up there with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Nick Stone’s Mr. Clarinet, Charlie Charters’ Bolt Action, and Linwood Barclay’s No Time for Goodbye, all of which scored award nominations (or wins) and became international best-sellers. I predict Matthew Dunn will find a place among that line-up of genre stars.

Due to my present weariness, I have to catch up on lost sleep before penning a review of Dunn’s novel. But I should have one ready soon for The Rap Sheet’s sister publication, January Magazine. In the meantime, click here to read this book’s opening chapter. It might make you look forward to a little sleep deprivation yourself.


Barbara said...

After reading the cover material, I would have skipped this one figuring been there, done that. But, this has convinced me I don't want to miss this book. Thanks for the heads up.

Randy Johnson said...

I really enjoyed this one as well. I thought it bridged that gap between the more realistic Le Carre and the fantastical Fleming.