Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
It’s been a while since we saw a new work from Kevin Wignall, though it’s been worth the wait, for his latest is perhaps his most intriguing, his most conspiratorial, probing the enigma that is identity. Identity is a theme that Wignall has explored before in work such as Who is Conrad Hirst, but this time the ‘enigma of being’ points at both the protagonist, Jacques Fillon, a man who is as much a cypher as the antagonist, ex-CIA and now a freelance security contractor Dan Hendricks – and most crucially from those who may wish him dead.
Those fond of the existential elements of an espionage thriller in the vein of Charles McCarry’s Paul Christopher novels, will relish in the observational and tradecraft elements contained in Wignall’s intriguing tale, as opposed to the less cerebral, spy thrillers that rely on action alone. The level of research in Wignall’s tale is not restricted to whether a hand gun has a safety catch, but delves into the mental state of those living under the shadows, in a world that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have revealed has as many threats from “our” own side, as that from the ‘other’ side.
It appears that Dan Hendricks is looking for safety, in the looking-glass world that is political espionage; a world where no one knows which side is which; as the methods opposing forces deploy, is as analogous as it is dangerous. A sense of paranoia, Hendricks discovers, is the sense that can keep you alive. Hendricks’ paranoia is high, as a number of his colleagues have been eliminated, in what appears to be work of ‘The Company’ shutting down loose ends. Hendricks’ operation is to track the enigmatic altruist Jacques Fillon.
Hendricks ponders if his quarry, this ‘hero’ of sorts actually exists, or if he is a cypher, or something worse. The body count is high, as is the growing sense of unease as Hendricks struggles with the realisation that his instinctive paranoia was indeed a heightened sense of reality. The last section of the narrative is a revenge tale, however, Hendricks’ pursuers are fleet of foot, and have very dangerous resources to deploy.
In this high-stakes game, there is romance, there is humour, but in very measured doses, for this is a dark book, a narrative that makes you think about what is real, and what is imagined when faced by faceless enemies, including our own natures. Slick, written in a beguiling style that inches itself toward a dramatic, and somewhat cathartic denouement, where we discover the extent of Hendricks’ paranoia, and that of the world he traverses. A book for those looking for depth, and for the provoking of thought, in a word, thrilling.