Merrimon Book Reviews

Kim Philby on the 1990 USSR commemorative stamp
H.A.R. Philby (1912–1988):  high-ranking member of British intelligence. A socialist, he served as an NKVD and KGB operative. In 1963, Philby was revealed as a member of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Five.

A child suffering the effects of severe hunger and malnutrition. The effects of the blockade. Pictures of the famine caused by Nigerian blockade garnered sympathy for the Biafrans worldwide.

The  Nigerian-Biafran War, (19671970) was a political conflict caused by the attempted secession of the southeastern provinces of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra.

From Merrimon Book Reviews
Free Agent
Free Agent by Jeremy Duns
by Jeremy Duns 

Sketchy characterization and scene setting

When a KGB Agent turns up during the Biafra civil war in Nigeria with information about a double agent in British Intelligence,  agent Paul Dark fears his past will catch up with him.  Twenty-five years ago, Dark was recruited by MI6, joining his father in a covert, unsanctioned mission to unofficially execute Nazi war criminals.  Now on the run from both MI6 and the KGB, Paul Dark  is determined to protect himself and find the only woman he has ever loved, a woman he long belived dead.  The Biafra civil war complicates his mission, not only thwarting his physical movements but highlighting the moral dilemma of intelligence work itself more and more as the novel races towards the final shocking resolution.

In his debut espionage thriller FREE AGENT, Jeremy Duns gives espionage lovers an action-packed novel with several twists and turns as the boundaries between agent and double agent collide.  The first person narrative aligns the reader with Paul Dark, allowing the reader to view the events only through his incomplete knowledge.  While this adds an element of suspense, the reader needs more details to feel drawn into the story.  The backdrop of the Biafra civil war gives an interesting look into the influence of the superpowers and the intelligence game itself during this period of time.  One wishes the author had developed this aspect of the story more both in giving more historical details and simply more space in the current action.  In addition, the 1945 background seems a most promising twist on the story, but little background is given throughout the story and most details are saved until the end.  As fascinating as the final denouement is, more background to the past throughout the novel would have built up the sense of anticipation as well as the depth of the characters. 

FREE AGENT would benefit from more in depth characterization.  The characters and their relationships, both personal and professional, feel sketchy.  Fast paced, action-filled espionage thrillers are great, but one needs enough characterization to be drawn into caring about the characters in the first place.  The surprise ending fascinates with its clever twists and subterfuge, and yet, the lack of characterization leading up to that moment decreases the potential impact of the ending.   FREE AGENT would have been a better book with more attention to historical background of the characters and in the scene setting itself.  If it makes the book longer, so be it.  More atmosphere and characterization would produce a more intense, nail-biting pace because the reader would have had more investment in the characters and the outcome.  The author's mention of the Philby background and the historical notes at the end fascinated me, but I would have liked to have seen more of the author's knowledge interwoven into the story itself.  Rather than detracting from the story's action, this would have built up the significance of the action.

With his potential complexity and history, Paul Dark has potential as the center of an espionage series.  This espionage thriller lover hopes that in future novels, the author will take the time and page count necessary to flesh out the story more so that all those twists and turns have the desired maximum effect.  While I enjoyed the non-stop twists and turns and the nods to history, the sketchiness of the novel felt more like an undeveloped outline for a great story to be told.

Publisher: Viking (June 25, 2009)
Author web site
Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
Review Courtesy of Amazon Vine
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