The Old Enemy by Henry Porter is published with Quercus and is a book that is described as ‘a heart-stopping international spy thriller’. The Old Enemy is the third book in this series featuring Ex-MI6 officer Paul Samson, following on from Firefly and White Hot Silence. Having not read either of these books I was a little reticent jumping in at number three, but I was soon caught up in the complexities of this intriguing and fast-paced tale of espionage and deceit.
Henry Porter is fastidious in his research and, when reading through his notes about his approach to writing, it was fascinating to see how he incorporated different characters from previous books (including those from Brandenburg, a novel that was published in 2005 and won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award) into The Old Enemy.
“What appealed to me was that the younger generation now faced a battle with the same forces that the Cold War Warriors had had to deal with in the 70s and 80s. And with that came the understanding that the level of penetration and the Russian campaign to destabilise the West both exceeded the threats of the Cold War. Both the older and younger generation contend with a threat from exactly the same origin, in fact the Old Enemy.” – Henry Porter
The Old Enemy is a modern-day tale about an old nemesis that has infiltrated both the UK and US government, including many powerful individuals who will do anything to protect their own public reputation. When Paul Samson is asked to shadow a young woman, Zoe Freemantle, it is a job he feels is beneath his ability. But it is a favour for a friend, and it pays the bills, so he accepts the role. Now, working off the grid so to speak, Samson has a level of freedom and flexibility in his life. After being impacted by previous events, Samson had fallen into a serious gambling addiction but now he is on the right path. He doesn’t dwell too much on his past but the memory of a lost love is forever etched into his mind, that of Anastasia Hisami.
Zoe Freemantle works for an environmental NGO. On trailing her, Samson becomes the victim of an unexpected attack. He is initially unsure as to the why and is cautious as he follows the trail of the suspect. When he hears of the murder of his friend, and former legendary MI6 colleague, Robert Harland in Estonia, Samson is angered. This event is soon followed by live TV footage from Washington of philanthropist billionaire, and husband of Anastasia Hisami, Denis Hisami collapsing in the House of Representatives after being poisoned by a nerve agent. Unwittingly, Paul Samson finds himself caught up in a web of treachery that will take him on a journey laced with death and lies. It soon becomes apparent to Paul Samson that his life is in serious danger, setting him on a perilous path to discover the truth behind this sabotage and murder. Using all resources possible, he discovers that the Kremlin, in conjunction with a reviled veteran of the Stasi regime, has penetrated into the deepest levels of British and American society mining information about millions of people while also using extreme violence to achieve their objective.
The plot in The Old Enemy is tight. Henry Porter has very cleverly introduced characters from his previous books with clear enough background given so the reader is provided with sufficient knowledge to understand the connections, allowing the reader to become totally immersed in the story. Henry Porter has been described by Charles Cummings as an ‘espionage master’ carrying the mantle of being heir to John le Carré and it is very clear why. Reading The Old Enemy is an addictive experience. With every page turned, the reader is taken on an electrifying ride across the UK, the Balkans and the States. The locations are all very well depicted with Henry Porter stating that “I always use locations that I have visited. This kind of detail is important to me” – and it shows. By ensuring the reader has a strong sense of place, Henry Porter very much brings the story to life. The action sequences are exciting to read with heart-thumping scenes that kept me very much riveted to the end.
The Old Enemy is a very complex and layered piece of fiction. Focus is most definitely required at all times as many secrets are revealed and old faces surface. Using a new generation of young hackers with the more old-fashioned approach of hands-on spy work, Henry Porter crosses a divide which will appeal to the more traditional le Carré reader and also new, and younger fans, of the spy thriller genre.
Henry Porter highlights the idea that ‘whatever the changes in rhetoric, ideology and appearance, the greatest threat to peace and stability in the West is still Russia.’ Full of shadows that lurk in the background, who is genuine and who hides behind a mask slowly reveals itself, but who will eventually win out?
The Old Enemy is a solid, exciting and very realistic read. It’s a superb example of a thriller and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. All the characters have their own back-stories, based on real-life events that have shaken our world, which adds to the authenticity of the tale. Espionage, thrills and gutsy characters crossing multiple borders in a fight for justice and peace, the perfect ingredients for a great read!
(c) Swirl and Thread
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