Review: Dead Spy Running – Jon Stock

Daniel Marchant 1

My version: Hardback
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, espionage
First published: 2010
ISBN: 9780007350179
Pages: 320

From the cover:
“Suspended MI6 agent Daniel Marchant is running out of time. He’s alongside a man strapped with explosives at the London Marathon. If they drop their speed the belt will detonate, killing all around them. But is Marchant secretly working for the terrorists?
Marchant’s father, ex-chief of MI6, was accused by the CIA of treachery. To prove his innocence, Marchant must take a perilous journey via Poland and India to unearth his father’s dark past, test his relationship with fellow spy Leila and challenge the heavy hand of America’s war on terror.
Most of all, he has to learn to trust no one.”

Shut the doors, lock the windows, hide the phone put the car away. Once you start, you’re not going anywhere until you finish reading this one.

More addictive than the contents of a warehouse just the other side of the Mexican border, more twists and turns than the road up into the mountains from Innsbruck to Seefeld we travelled on this last summer.

You really shouldn’t reckon on putting ‘Dead Spy Running’ down until you’re done.

This is the first in the current Marchant trilogy (I say ‘current’ mainly in the hope of there being more than the three Jon Stock has written so far). Here we’re introduced to the character of Daniel Marchant, but in a way that feels right, as if we’re joining him and his story, his life, not at the start, but kind of a fair way in. It’s clear that a lot has happened before we join Marchant; in his childhood, his younger days, his previous career as a journalist abroad and his early days in ‘the Service.’ He comes with a lot of baggage. Not least that his father was a previous head of the MI6 he now works for. But, by not being introduced to him at the beginning of his story, it felt almost as if this book was a number two, or three and I did have to check that it was indeed the first of the series. I liked this feeling. It means that facts about why he is who and how he is, are dotted around for us to find. We learn who he is gradually and intriguingly. So the character develops and folds out for us and his decisions and actions make sense as he progresses through the story. Hope that makes sense?

Marchant has been suspended by MI6, then gets caught up in an incident involving the London Marathon, the American Ambassador and a suicide bomber loaded down with explosives. For us it’s clear he’s the hero, but after an investigation by the CIA, he’s deemed quite the opposite. Obviously someone somewhere wants his name blackened. Things get worse from there on. He gets taken off to Poland by the CIA, to help them with their enquiries, if you know what I mean. Later he travels over to India, where his father was stationed, where he grew up and where he still seems to have family…All the time he is constantly followed, constantly on his guard and constantly under suspicion for being something he may or may not be. You have to keep your wits about you nearly as much as he does once you get involved with this story, that’s for sure.

While reading ‘Dead Spy Running’ I was really pleased to come to think of none less than the great Len Deighton at his best. Sharp dialogue, concise, water-tight plotted story, plenty of action and a spy with cool and attitude. Indeed, for a totally modern, thoroughly up-to-date, 21st Century spy thriller, it was interesting that I found one of the best moments was involving a character who could have just stepped out of a Len Deighton-type Cold War spy novel, ‘Hugo Prentice’, playing by, to quote; ‘Moscow rules, British style’. And playing the, what could be described as, somewhat over enthusiastic CIA chief Spiro at his own game. Laughed out loud, with a ‘take THAT!, at that incident. The old dogs can still show the young pups some new tricks.

But there’s also something to think about. Some work for the brain, as well as the eyes. Sometimes, you just have to stop, stare into space and let the ramifications of what may or may not have happened sink in. “So… if he’s doing that, to him, then that must mean that she’s also…but then if they do that, then that would mean…” Nothing for it but to read on, asap.

Personally speaking, it would have been better if I’d read this first one first, not the second (Games Traitors Play) first. Some of the secrets revealed here, would have had their full intended shock, rather than just giving me the complete picture of incidents I was already familiar with because I’d read number two first. Read on their own, one and two are perfectly self contained. You could absolutely get the maximum out of them as individual books. But if you’re going to read the whole trilogy, you owe it to yourself to give yourself the total available pleasure by reading them in the published order.

If you’re looking for a British spy of the old-school for the new age, a spy not afraid to go out on a limb and a story that races along, barely pausing for breath, with characters you like, care about and celebrate with when they stick it to the ‘enemy’ (even if that’s the Yanks!); then you’ll find this a really excellent, convincing and absorbing novel. A novel to keep you on your toes and glued to the chair.

You can buy Dead Spy Running from The Book Depository

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