Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Edward Wilson, The Envoy

Edward Wilson, The Envoy
Arcadia Books (September 1, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-1906413125

Kit Fournier is the CIA bureau chief in London, with diplomatic cover, in 1956, just as things are heating up in Hungary and in Egypt.  And England is possibly inching toward some lessening of tensions with the USSR and, by the way, wants its own nukes.  Which the US is determined to prevent.  Fournier, who is apparently in his late 20s, maybe early 30s, is a rising star in the CIA; his London assignment is a plum for someone his age.

The story is fairly convoluted, and the major issues don’t emerge all that quickly or clearly.  And Fournier, for all that he’s a hot shot, seems consistently to do things that (should) get in the way of his doing his job.  Now, keep in mind that what I know about the life of a field intelligence agent is derived from what I have read—mostly from spy novels—so take my comments here for what they are worth.  But take just a couple of things.  Fournier meets (clandestinely) regularly—often—with his KGB counterpart, and the process is always the same.  One of them leaves a marker in the same place in a London park, always in the same way (pretending to re-tie a shoelace, while driving a “spike” with a message into the ground and leaving a chalk mark in a visible location.  And they always meet at the same place.  If either of them is under surveillance, how long do you think this will actually work?

And Fournier is sexually obsessed with his cousin (Jennifer) who just happened to be married to one of Britain’s leading physicists working on their fusion bomb project.  And no one seems to have noticed (well, until the very end).  (There are other behavioral issues as well—Fournier is clearly a bit off-center in a number of ways.)

A number of real historical personages (from the Dulles brothers to Eisenhower to Churchill and  Anthony Eden to JFK) make appearances or are referred to; virtually all these references are disparaging, which may be how the CIA viewed them all, but still seems odd.

And, at the end, we have a fairly extended coda telling us what happened after the story being told in the book has wrapped up.  Maybe we needed that, maybe not.

Wilson actually writes well, and continuing to read the book is not a hard thing to do.  But the story seemed not as well thought out, and the character motivations not as well considered or allowed to emerge from the events as we see them (for example, we learn a lot about some of the characters after things are pretty well wrapped up).  I’ll be giving the following books in this series a shot, but I can’t say, at this point, that I have high expectations.

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