I reviewed Simon Conway’s previous book, Rock Creek Park, in 2013 and thought it an excellent read. It is a bio thriller with a twist and I liked the US setting. For his latest book, The Agent Runner, Conway’s narrative alternates between Pakistan and London. It’s a spy story set amongst the violence and mutual suspicion that exists in the espionage world. Once more, I thought the plot excellent and an unusual take on a story that has dominated the news.
Edward Malik is a MI6 operative who has been running a double agent codenamed Nightingale inside Pakistan. After the killing of Bin Laden by US soldiers, Nightingale’s cover is blown and Ed finds himself in the political wilderness. He returns to the East End of London to live with his father but eyes up a return to Pakistan. But he must evade the scrutiny of Lahore’s legendary spy, Javid Aslam Khan.
Conway is excellent at making what might appear a familiar scenario more personal. The East End of London comes alive in The Agent Runner as Ed returns to the routine of a civilian life after the excitement of Pakistan. Lahore is equally well portrayed, particularly the atmosphere of suspicion and potential for violence. There are a couple of episodes of brutality but nothing too shocking and I found myself racing through the plot.
I know spy stories aren’t for everyone, but if you enjoy a good tale of international skullduggery, you’ll love this one.
The tag ‘bio-thriller’ on the front of this book nearly put me off. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just usually find them too complicated for my unscientific mind. What got me reading the book was the setting – the political world of Washington DC. However, as it turned out Rock Creek Park as an excellent and disturbing read.
Harriet ‘Harry’ Armstrong is a former police Metropolitan police officer who jogging one night in Rock Creek Park discovers the body of a young woman. The park adjoins the property of a Republican Senator who gathers the great and the good around him to protect his reputation while the investigation takes place. Detective Michael Freeman is a former Special Forces soldier now working for Washington MPD. Convinced he is being set up by those who want to keep the Senator out of the investigation, he discovers Harry is now working for a genetic engineering company headed by a Russian scientist who may have been involved in the killing.
This was a pacy read written from the point of view of both policeman Freeman and Harry, who is desperate not to get involved in the case. Both characters are equally interesting – Freeman because knows that he is in the middle of a conspiracy involving multiple intelligence agencies, whereas Harry’s sense of dislocation as a stranger in a new city gives her a naïvety which is a nice counterbalance to Freeman. They are both given interesting back stories and the people who are close to them, Freeman’s political aide wife and Harry’s journalist husband, are also well drawn.
The political side of Washington is excellently portrayed, full ambitious aides and other hangers-on. I also enjoyed the bio-thriller part of the narrative, despite my reservations, mainly because the central premise is so interesting. There is a very creepy feel to the experiments that are taking place and a shocking event towards the latter part of the book which made difficult reading.
Towards the end, when the action moved from Washington to Georgia in the Caucasus, the book changed style slightly although the pace quickened to an extent that it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. I’d be interested to read a review from a scientist about the experiments that take place. I read the book with the view that it depicted an interesting if slightly improbable sequence of events. I’d be horrified to think that this stuff actually goes on.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher. The book has also been reviewed at Eurocrime. The author’s website is here.