Friday, July 13, 2012
Review of The Envoy by Edward Wilson (Arcadia, 2008)
The Envoy is a superior spy story that blends real world events and people with a fictional tale. It is complex, multi-layered, atmospheric, full of historical and political insight, and reveals deep insight into human relations. Wilson constructs a compelling and plausible plot that cleverly uses real events, such as the Ordzhonikidze incident in Portsmouth harbour, Britain’s hydrogen bomb program, and the Suez crisis, and real personalities such as Allen Dulles, Jack Kennedy and Dick White. He recreates the social landscape of Britain and the wider political atmosphere and diplomatic games being played in the 1950s, providing a deep sense of historical realism (indeed, the bibliography at the end of the book shows that Wilson did a fair bit of research in plotting the book). In particular, Wilson captures the spy’s world of deception, lies, betrayals, coercion, blackmail, state-sanctioned murder, paranoia, danger and constant worry, and that half the battle is the games within and between one’s own organisations. His characterization is excellent, especially his portrayal of Kit Fournier as a self-reflexive spy racked with self-loathing, yet compelled out of duty and honour to play his role, and he does a good job at exploring the human condition and what drives and shapes people in particular circumstances. Overall, a very well told story, with a couple of nice twists and turns, and an excellent resolution that proves that nothing is as it seems, even to those that think they can see the hand that each party is holding.