There can’t be many more
unusual places to begin a thriller than in the crush and bustle of the
London Marathon. But that’s where Jon Stock’s ‘Dead Spy Running’ takes
off as his central character, Daniel Marchant, son of a disgraced head
of MI6 and an officer of the Service himself, prevents the assassination
of the American Ambassador by a forced suicide bomber.
He narrowly escapes death himself, along with everyone around him, by
the simple expedient of running with the reluctant bomber at a constant
pace until it can be defused; anything slower, the bomber tells him, and
it will explode.
Unfortunately for Marchant, his courageous action is barely
acknowledged, and even looked on as suspicious. It is another sign that
for the son of a suspected traitor, life is just not that simple. There
are too many people prepared to believe him to be cut from the same
cloth as his late father, who was displaced by the CIA who suspected him
of treachery with a known Al Q’aeda member named Salim Dhar. To the many
doubters, especially MI5, his presence alongside the bomber and the
Ambassador is simply not credible.
Among those who do believe in him are his lover and fellow officer,
Leila, and the new MI6 chief Sir Marcus Fielding. Leila’s mother, an
Iranian member of the Bahá’í faith, is in a nursing home, a constant
source of anguish for Leila, trying to steer a careful course on her
career path through a sceptical Intelligence Service.
Other than that, it seems nobody wants to trust Marchant further than
they can spit. This – amid the revelation of how just how powerful the
Americans are, even in the UK - comes to a head when he is kidnapped
from a safe house and taken to Poland, a victim of extraordinary
rendition. There, he is subjected to water-boarding, the ingeniously
brutal simulation of drowning used on terror suspects. Rescued with the
collaboration of Polish security forces, Marchant goes on the run, his
mind set on finding out who is so keen to believe that his father was a
traitor, and to clear his own name, too.
Jon Stock’s writing has already been compared to Le Carré, and with some
justification. His style is certainly as elegant and exciting, with a
brisk pace and very well-defined characters, whether they be suits in
Whitehall, terrorists in India or take-no-crap Americans officials
fighting the war on terror.
This is where Stock’s profession as an international journalist shows
through. With a powerful atmosphere of authenticity, one wonders how
many of his past and present contacts will attempt to see themselves in
this book. The tension is particularly sharp as Marchant struggles to
understand who is against him and who is not, and the back-stabbing –
and back-story - unravels in a way which draws you in to each of their
motives and agendas... and reveals some startling shocks along the way,
not least a couple of truly staggering ones for Marchant.
Running is how the book begins, and it doesn’t relent. By turn shocking,
brutal and poignant, it has everything a spy novel should have.