Sunday, March 2, 2014

J.R. Rogers' "Doomed Spy"

Winter has returned, and with it another book to review.  Join me in my white, winter wanderings (and sometimes wonderings - hmmm) as we delve into J.R. Rogers' novel Doomed Spy.

Book Blurb:
A psychological spy thriller set in 1960 in the quiet South American capital of Montevideo, Uruguay an unconventional distant posting at the height of the Cold War. The city is at first glance an unassuming battleground: the Rio de la Plata lapping at its shores, cobblestone streets lined with narrow buildings decorated with filigree ironwork, and overall a distinct colonial feel, but also with a palpable old European influence. At the center of the intrigue are two Cold War intelligence officers, a British MI6 officer, and the Soviet KGB Rezident. Both are seasoned operatives in the shadowy clandestine world of spies. Outwardly, the two are enemies but the Britisher is not what he seems. He has close secret ties to the Rezident who recruited him years ago in Belgium as a double agent. The intricate chilling details of the eventual betrayal of the MI6 officer as his life and work suddenly unravel ends climactically in faraway Moscow.

My Review:
I had mixed emotions about this novel and am having difficulty placing a rating on it.  As a child growing up in the Cold War era and the saber-rattling threat of nuclear war at the forefront, I was immediately intrigued and drawn into once again visiting the realm of the spy network.

I secretly dreamed of being a spy, you know.  Confession time too - I actually know someone who was a spy during this time period. :-)

So going in, I was immediately pulled into the espionage and intrigue on the sides of the Soviets and the British, their work dancing with one another as they attempted to turn the other into double agents.  The urgency of the young Soviet spy worrying about his wife back home was palpable, the worry of the aging agents as they tired of the game and looked forward to retirement - but couldn't let their guard down yet, and the myriad of support teams on both sides of the equation as they tried to read one another and discover who was real and who was Memorex.

But before a quarter of the way into the story, it was pretty obvious who the turncoat was and then the story blatantly revealed that information - and I didn't like that.  Immediately the palpable tension and sense of urgency in the story deflated like a popped balloon and the wind in my sails died out with the revelation.  Yes, again it was already obvious, but I feel it would have been so much better if that information had been strung along - like Kevin Costner's character in the movie No Way Out.  After that the story merely rambled for me, and I quickly lost interest about events and what happened with the characters.

The initial descriptions of the scene and setting were great, giving me a sense of actually being there.  However, description at times became overwhelming and rambling about the smallest details that began to detract from the story instead of enhance it.  Pacing dragged and made it feel as if I was slogging through heavy, wet concrete.

Point of view changed many times within a scene but avoided being jarring most of the time because once it switched hands, it typically stayed in that one head until the next switch within that scene.  This could easily be fixed in most cases by simply adding a scene break.  I personally feel that would also help speed pacing somewhat by breaking up several overlong chapters.

Initially the characters were intriguing, but as the story moved forward they rather lost a sense of depth and seemed to be making decisions or doing things simply because that was the way the story was supposed to go.  I could understand if someone did something out of character once or twice, but to change entirely was a bit much.  Some motivations felt muddled, as if even they weren't sure why they were doing something but they did it anyway - and most of the time to their own detriment.  Most people learn to trust their instincts and respond accordingly (especially trained spies).  It left me scratching my head several times that the characters didn't stay true to themselves.

I kept reading, though, expecting some big, spectacular finish that maybe I wasn't seeing coming.  The end came and went - and I turned off my Kindle feeling even more deflated.  When I picked up this novel I expected something along the lines of the aforementioned movie.  Sadly it didn't stir me.

Were there times when my heart was pumping?  Yes.  Did I feel like I was present in the location(s)?  Yes.  Was it intriguing revisiting the Cold War?  Yes.

And for that I'll settle on a very tentative three star rating.


Author Bio:

J.R. Rogers grew up primarily in Paris, but also in Antwerp and Kinshasa, an international influence he finds frequently tainting his historical novels of intrigue and espionage with settings and scenes set in the various parts of the world: France, Belgium, Peru, Brazil, French Guiana, Uruguay and Morocco. He holds a B.A. in French Literature.
His novel influences were those of classic spy writers such as Eric Ambler, and John Le Carre, for instance but his interests in writers of the genre are all over the board.  He is currently at work on his fourth novel, a story of intrigue set in 1944 French Morocco entitled Mission to Morocco. The novel will become available in early 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment