Sunday, January 31, 2016

Spy Games

Troy Pearce spent a long time on the sharp end of the sword in the global war on terror, staying behind the scenes as an agent for the CIA. Eventually burned out as he watched too many colleagues sacrificed for expediency, he now operates his own covert services operation featuring high-tech drones. No longer forced to work for those who couldn't care less about his fate, Pearce is presented with a request from the President of the United States to use his technology to find the drug cartel kings that killed her son. Though he's certain the job will wind up involving more than that, Pearce agrees, and then is proven right in 2013's Drone.

Even though it features the unmanned air, sea and land vehicles usually called "drones," Drone the book doesn't turn Troy and his teammates into pasty-faced desktop joystick jockeys. There are plenty of occasions that call for them to be lethal up-close and in person, and they are all well-trained in the ability to do so. The drones and high-tech toys back them up and take the center stage infrequently enough to satisfy most action spy thriller fans.

Maden has a background in political science and so his geopolitical chops strengthen Drone, and he has a tidy hand with an action scene. Drone has some first-novel rough spots but also hints at some high-level espionage thrillings as we continue to follow Troy and his employees in later adventures.
Before retiring from the spy biz, the agent known as Pilgrim published a textbook on forensic investigations that a brilliant NYPD detective found and eventually used to contact him. Now Pilgrim stands in a bare motel room, looking at a dead body someone has treated using his methods. It's the first domino in a string that leads to a vicious terrorist with a horrifying plot and a return to a stage Pilgrim thought he would not play on again.

Terry Hayes is a screenwriter and has a knack for creating great atmosphere and visuals in 2014's I Am Pilgrim, his first novel. The character Pilgrim begins with an almost cramped and stilted viewpoint voice, but as he moves more and more back into the world of shadows and secrets, that voice opens and loosens up, adding a few wry quips and self-deprecating humor. That inverse relationship helps ease some of the tension as we watch the all-too-plausible terrorist scenario unfold and root for the truly evil mastermind to get the comeuppance he merits.

Hayes' style is not particularly ornate or embellished, but it does have a spare elegance that works well with the damaged Pilgrim and his world of deceit and lies. Hayes plans to continue the character, so we'll see how or if Pilgrim manages to stay separate from the life of secrets.
The assassination of an estranged royal spouse moves British intelligence to seek aid from an unlikely source -- Israeli agent Gabriel Allon. Gabriel's past "indiscretions" on British soil will be overlooked if he can help. Allon agrees, but only if he can get help from an even more unlikely and unwelcome source -- ex-SAS commando and assassin Christopher Keller. The need is great enough that his wish is granted, and the pair get onto the track of a brilliant bomb-maker and the shadowy revolutionaries who hired him in Daniel Silva's 2015 The English Spy.

Gabriel and Christopher have worked together and crossed paths, but they've not been partnered up in this way before. Christopher is used to some rather final methods to gain information and tidy up loose ends and while Gabriel is as ruthless as need be when the mission requires it, he still has some rules left to play by.

Silva is still in the middle phase of his Gabriel Allon stories -- he's familiar enough with his characters and settings to keep things humming smartly but not yet at the place where the familiar has become a rut. Adding Christopher into this mix offers a dash of new flavoring to his regular menu and helps keep The English Spy fresh. Whether he plans to bring the pair back together in the future or offer Christopher Keller in a series of his own novels has yet to be seen.

No comments: