Thursday, November 20, 2014
Review of The Midnight Swimmer by Edward Wilson
In The Midnight Swimmer Edward Wilson re-imagines the Cuban missile crisis. Whilst many of the characters, incidents and political stakes are real, Wilson places his working class spy, Will Catesby, into the heart of the tale. Catesby is an experienced operative with a tarnished history, and the British are still not trusted by their American counterparts given the fallout of the Cambridge ring. What unfolds is a dangerous and complex game between British, American, French, West and East German, and Russian agencies and operatives, some of whom are trying to follow the party line, others pursuing their own agendas. Even within the same country, different factions are vying to influence the paths taken. Catesby is a pawn in this landscape, never quite certain of the game being played. And neither is the reader until the latter part of the book. What that means is the first half of the tale is a little oblique and stuttering, but as it continues it becomes surer and more compelling as pieces start to drop into place. As with the first two books in the Catesby series, the narrative is layered, the characters are complex and nicely drawn, the plot has plenty of intrigue and understated encounters and action, and the historicisation is excellent with careful attention to detail. Wilson’s spy novels are intricate affairs consisting of a swirling mix of greys and shifting allegiances and unexpected collaborations, rather than black and whites and sharply drawn lines. The result is a thoughtful, engaging and entertaining spy tale.