Review of “A Loyal Spy” by Simon Conway

This was the first book by Simon Conway that I read. It was the winner of the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award in 2010 when it was published in Britain. The edition I read was published in the USA in 2018.

The book is about a British spy who finds out that his very old friend and agent might not just be working for British intelligence and might be involved in many other nefarious activities. I won’t say anything about what happens to these characters for fear of disclosing something that would spoil a reader’s pleasure. This book is very much in the tradition of John LeCarré. It doesn’t quite match up with LeCarré, but few ever do.

The major strength of the book lie in the development of some interesting and believable characters. The characters do have many flaws, which I always appreciate, but are very capable in what they do. They are well-developed and complex. The setting is also a  strength of this book. The author obviously knows his way around the Middle East, and the description of the characters and the places seem extremely realistic to me.

The weaknesses of the book involve the complexity of the plot and the structure the author uses to reveal backstory. I found the plot very complex, but the way the author jumped forward and backward in time and changed the point of view added a degree of complexity that I found to be unnecessary. You really have to pay attention to what is going on in this book, and I found that difficult at times. There was also a certain amount of gratuitous sex and violence in the book that I found unnecessary, and even interfering with the plot development and the character portrayals.

Overall, it is a cleverly crafted novel, squarely in the British spy story tradition. The reader is cautioned that it is a little difficult to follow, particularly in the first half of the book.  I guess that is what makes British spy novels so different from their American counterparts. “A Loyal Spy” is worth reading for a reader who knows what they are getting into, and can deal with time jumps and changes in point of view.

I obtained this book through the New Books display in my local library. I also published this review in Goodreads.

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