Review: A Spy’s Life – Henry Porter

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Espionage
Orion Publishing Co.
First published: 2010
ISBN: 9780753828380
Pages: 480

An ex British spy finds himself dragged back into the world of espionage after a mysterious plane crash…
Robert Cope Harland ended his career as a British spy in an Austrian hospital, after being tortured and beaten by Czech security agents in the last days of the communist regime. He was young enough then to find a new life with the Red Cross and then with the UN.
Twelve years later his UN plane crashes in mysterious circumstances at La Guardia airport, New York and Harland is the only survivor. Was it sabotage, and if so, was Harland the target?
It is soon clear to Harland that the answers are to be found in his past, a past which, along with its secrets and tradecraft, he has desperately tried to forget. And now the crash has thrown him back into a world of relentless intrigue and mistrust, to his youth, and a life-changing love affair…

A Spy’s Life, by is a wonderfully well-paced spy story, that gradually reveals its many intriguing secrets. Both for story’s participants and for us, the readers.

I hope it doesn’t sound strange, but I thought it read like you were constantly wiping a steamed-up window, so you can what was happening more clearly.

Being a spy story set in Europe, there are of course plenty of hang-overs from the classic East vs West, Capitalism vs Communism, old-school spy games. But the whole is brought into the 20th (and 21st Century with the current war-crimes trials taking place in The Hague), by stretching out into the break-up of the old Yugoslavia, the wars in Bosnia and investigations into the Serbian, ‘ethnic cleansing’ massacres of Muslims.

We follow Robert Harland, an English ex-spy – luckily, not an ex-Cambridge University octogenarian ex-spy this time, but still one with plenty of ‘baggage’. Harland has seemingly successfully negotiated his way through the tricky final phases of Communism and the break up of the Eastern Bloc, but, after he was rescued from a particularly un-pleasant experience at the hands of his ex-Communist adversaries, he left ‘The Service’ and now works in a fairly mundane job for the UN.

However, the book opens with it becoming clear that he has – almost – accidentally found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people. It becomes clear, that nothing is clear.

It isn’t really possible to give away too many more of the plot details, without spoiling any of the many twists and turns and revelations that come throughout the story. Suffice it to say that you are going to have to pay attention as many people are not who they say they are, or were, or are who they say they are now. Also, more often than not, it seems like what they did and for whom, wasn’t always done for the reasons or people Harland thought they were. As I said at the start, the story reveals itself and un-coils gradually and we only understand what is happening at the same time as Harland.

I thoroughly enjoyed this A Spy’s Life and read it at break-neck pace. I have ear-marked the others it seems Porter has written about Robert Harland for future download.

You can buy A Spy’s Life from The Book Depository

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