I reviewed Simon’s book Rage some years ago. It was the first time I had heard of Simon Conway, and I can remember the feelings of doubt as I picked it up. It was another book about terrorism à la al Quaeda/Taliban and I had read so many very poor books about that that the thought of reading another was enough to make me look longingly at the PG Wodehouse shelves.
And Rage converted me. It was one of those newer, grittier, spy books that just gripped from the first page. From that moment I was hooked entirely, and told myself I’d have to follow this author.
Sadly, this ain’t the same.
Don’t get me wrong: A Loyal Spy is full of the elements that make a thriller such a joy. Simon has a huge amount of knowledge of that part of the world, he has a facility for believable scenes, for convoluted plotting that would confuse le Carré, and a marvellous range of characters.
But, and it is a huge complaint to me – this book doesn’t move logically. It begins in 2001, darts back to 1996, on to ’99, to ’01, to ’05, then skids back to ’88 and ’89, before creeping back to ’90 and ’01. All this back-filling is good, and pretty essential to the main plot, but the way that the story skitters about is confusing for this reader. There is just too much: too many characters, too many scenes, too much . . . well, a bit too much of almost everything.
It hurts, too, because when he gets away from the background, and gets into the main story, at about page 230, it suddenly comes alive. From that moment I could not put the book down, and was gripped in the same way that Rage had.
The general theme is simple. A spy has gone to the other side. He was a joe working for a British ultra-secret intelligence group, reporting to Jonah. The spy, Nor, is Jonah’s best friend as well as his spy, but when he manages to make a mission go seriously haywire, leading to the death of a CIA operative, he’s seen to be a serious threat and must be killed. Only it’s never that simple – and the main plot is really the terrorist plot that is gradually uncovered.
This is a good read. Perhaps if my own mind was a little less uncluttered I would have enjoyed the beginning more, but I have to admit that I really prefer a more straight-line story. Once the story got into its stride, I was entirely gripped – but the editor really should have tightened up the first half, I reckon!