A Loyal Traitor

Written by Tim Glister

Review written by Michael Jecks

A Loyal Traitor
Point Blank
RRP: £16.99
Released: February 10 2022

Since I’m a child of the 60s, I’ve always been interested in books of the period. I love Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, John le Carré, John Gardner … all inspired me with my own writing, and they’re writing about a period I know well.

It’s not just spy and crime stories - it’s the cars, the whiff of cigarette or panetella smoke, the smell of grotty aftershave, the holes in London where buildings stood twenty years before, the jagged, broken ruins where incendiaries blow-torched whole streets, and which no one had got round to rebuilding yet. I still remember one of the last big craters being developed into a big BT building just north of St Paul’s when I was going to university in the late ’70s. The War was still very fresh in the mind of the city.

So it was very pleasing to receive A LOYAL TRAITOR, and it started well. I liked the characterisation of the main players, and the use of locations. It begins with a particularly nasty murder - an entire family wiped out by an assassin, but then moves quickly on to Richard Knox in Vancouver Island, on a mission to speak to a man suspected of flying Soviet spies into the USA from Canada, then to Banica in the Dominican Republic, where Abey Bennett, a CIA agent, is unhappy about a prisoner swap.

There is the atmosphere of spies and counter espionage, of plots and counterplots that circle agents constantly. Knox is fed up with it, especially since he’s lost his best friend, Williams, who was presumed killed when on his last mission - a mission on which Knox had sent him. Guilt constantly tears at him for that. I think Abey is also well depicted. This was a time in the CIA when women, as in most of society, were not given the same prospects as their male counterparts. As spies, they were respected, but misogyny hampered their careers, and I think that is very well depicted here.

So, what is the story? The main theme is the sudden appearance of a man who describes himself as a Russian assassin - but it is soon discovered that he is Williams, Knox’s friend. He is in a terrible state, his mind damaged after some kind of brainwashing. But he has flashes of memory, and he is terrified that he might do something, or be responsible for something, that will change the balance of power in the Cold War.

Knox is loyal to his friend, but he is anxious about the way Williams will be treated by an unsympathetic intelligence service.

As a story, I found this quite engaging. It has a brilliantly convoluted plot with layer on layer of subplot at every turn. The themes were very well put down, and the writing is very strong. It works really well as a thriller.

There were aspects that didn’t work for me, I have to admit. It reads like a story that has been well-researched, but it also feels like a story in which twenty-first century sentiments have been grafted onto the 1960s. There were some themes which grated: Knox’s guilt about Williams’ capture by the Russians became repetitive, for example. However, this was a really good distraction from my own work - and enjoyable.

So, if you want a good distraction from your work, and are prepared to sink back into a version of the 1960s, this could be just the book for you.

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