Star rating – 7/10
Espionage is back in vogue following last year’s big screen adaptation of John le Carré’s classic novel ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’. And this very well written debut from Chris Morgan Jones delves into the murky world of Russian espionage, only this time it is ‘business intelligence’ that it at the heart of the story. To you and me that means powerful oligarchs paying people to spy on their competitors - and much, much worse besides.
Morgan Jones would certainly be an interesting person to meet at a party and have a casual chat with about his own background advising wealthy bankers, governments and corporations around the world on business intelligence – although I’m sure he wouldn’t give many secrets away. And he is clearly on home turf with this thrilling book which sees journalist Ben Webster emerge from a tragic loss in Kazakhstan a decade earlier, to his current job as a private spy. He is assigned to help a rich Russian businessman sniff out trade secrets about the decidedly dodgy dealings of one of his business rivals, Konstantin Malin.
Webster finds himself locking horns with the respectable face of this particular oligarch (don’t you just love that term); his English lawyer Richard Lock. Lock seems to be the heart of multimillion dollar deals, named as he is as the owner of many of the newly acquired assets involved. But Lock soon begins to feel very hunted himself, and turns to Webster as his only way of escape.
The writing is pacey, intelligent, and very involving. One weakness for me is in the motivations and backgrounds of Lock and Webster, the two main protagonists. I wasn’t quite convinced of how suddenly Lock could become aware of the moral bankruptcy of his lifestyle, and more to the point that of his bosses, after over a decade of illicit dealings and lavish trappings. And I was also not quite convinced of the motivations of Webster, whose character is not fleshed out in great detail, but who seems to be working for a Russian who is little better than Malin.
But maybe that is part of the point - that espionage is not all black and white like a James Bond film, but rather moral shades of grey. This is a very enjoyable ride at any rate, and hopefully will be one of many offerings from Morgan Jones. And if you think the plot of Russian oligarch backed industrial espionage and murder is a bit farfetched – then you clearly haven’t been watching the excellent series about Vladimir Putin’s Russia on BBC2....