Dirty Little Secret by Jon Stock is the third espionage thriller featuring renegade MI-6 agent Daniel Marchant (available March 26, 2013).
Daniel Marchant has been through hell and high water while working to protect his country, Great Britain, from its foreign foes. As a spy in the service of MI-6, he has followed in his father’s footsteps to places and situations that he’d never imagined, including facing down his own half-brother, Salim Dhar, who has grown up to become one of the world’s most notorious terrorists. Marchant’s ability to persuade Dhar to limit the damage on his latest bold attack on British soil—while still incurring military losses to the Americans—has done nothing to secure the now-fraught relationship between Britain and America, much to the concern of MI-6 Chief, Marcus Fielding.
These latest developments were beginning to remind him of the 1960s, when relations between Britain and America had been at an all-time low. Fielding had been re-reading the files, hoping to learn lessons from the past. Washington, still reeling from Kim Philby’s defection, had been appalled at the election in 1964 of Harold Wilson, whose Labour government was against the US’s Polaris nuclear-missile program. President Johnson was equally suspicious of Britain’s intelligence establishment, believing that it was still riddled with Soviet spies.
Unfortunately for MI-6, Marchant discovers that there actually is a Russian spy currently active in its upper echelons. Since the Russians were also responsible for providing Dhar with material support for his latest attack, Marchant is only too happy to ferret out the mole: only trouble is, in the eyes of almost everyone except Fielding, Marchant is a rogue element who can’t be trusted. Placed in protective custody alongside a CIA agent who’s also considered to have gone off-script, Marchant is prepared to return to headquarters and confront the mole when a phone call from Dhar changes everything.
Soon, Marchant is on the run to France with Lakshmi Meena, the CIA agent whom he’s emotionally involved with but can’t be quite sure he can trust. Dhar is captured and renditioned to Bagram, Afghanistan, but is confident of escape, presumably with Marchant’s help. Fielding is disgraced and sacked due to political pressure from America, and in particular from Jim Spiro, head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, Europe. Spiro has the clout to put in his own man as Acting Chief of MI-6, to the chagrin of Harriet Armstrong, Director General of MI-5 and thus the person ultimately responsible for Britain’s internal security. Meanwhile, homegrown British terrorists move to strike in response to Dhar’s imprisonment, while the Russians maneuver to protect their asset in MI-6 and retaliate against Marchant for removing their influence over Dhar.
Dirty Little Secret is an exciting, fast-paced spy thriller that extrapolates from history to present a plausible, intelligent, and some might say cynical view of where the modern realities of terrorism and warfare may take us. It presents a thoroughly international worldview that might unsettle the insular and jingoistic, even as it asks what price should be paid to protect the country and people you love.
It also provides some terrifically cinematic scenes such as this one, where Marchant is escaping his pursuers via kite-surfing:
Just as he began to pick up speed, a gust of wind blew down the beach, ripping him off balance. The kite dropped down low, almost touching the waves, and dragged him through the shallow water, first on his front, then on his back, arms above his head. Water sluiced through his mouth, up both nostrils, down his throat. He struggled not to think of being waterboarded, tried not to panic.
Normally, he would have released the bar, but he knew he had to hold on if he was to stand any chance of escaping. Gagging on the salt water, he managed to lever himself upright. A plume of water seemed to explode beside him as another gunshot rang out, then another. He trimmed the angle of the kite, adjusted his feet on the board, and set off again, this time skimming across the waves like a flying fish.
On the strength of his writing, it’s no surprise that Jon Stock has received a movie deal for the Daniel Marchant books. It seems almost a shame that Dirty Little Secret is supposed to be the series finale, as Marchant is a compelling hero. Regardless, Jon Stock proves with this novel that he’s a master of modern-day spy fiction, with hopefully more to come.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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