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A Spy's Life [Hardcover]

Henry Porter
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

19 July 2001

Robert Cope Harland ended his career as a British spy in an Austrian hospital, after being tortured and beaten by Czech security agents in the last days of the communist regime. He was young enough then to find a new life with the Red Cross and then with the UN.

Twelve years later his UN plane crashes in mysterious circumstances at La Guardia airport, New York and Harland is the only survivor. Unwittingly he is pulled into a world of relentless intrigue - and back into his old profession. A spy¿s life, once blighted by the Cold War, is now threatened by the equally ruthless forces of modern espionage.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; First Printing edition (19 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752838598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752838595
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.4 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 913,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Henry Porter's A Spy's Life surpasses even its predecessor Remembrance Day, which achieved an unprecedented amount of enthusiastic word of mouth. Here, he brilliantly blends the thriller elements into a bizarre and surrealistic narrative that constantly surprises the reader.

A massive air crash in New York kills 19 people, most of them working for the United Nations. The only survivor is a British ex-spy, Robert Harland. After a traumatic encounter with torture in Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution, he is now working for the UN in a low-key, non-espionage role. Anyone familiar with the genre will know that attempts to retire from the spy trade are always doomed to failure, and Harland's freak survival of the plane crash soon makes him public property again. The FBI and other shadowy forces are keen to find out what he was doing on the plane. And as Harland speedily finds himself in lethal situations again, his life is further complicated by the appearance of a young man claiming to be his son by Eva, a young Czech agent with whom Harland was in love. With a mass murderer called Viktor Lipnik figuring into the equation, the reader is quickly beguiled by the kind of highly dangerous pyrotechnics that distinguished John le Carré's early books. In fact, the influence of le Carré's finest book, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, is evident here, and it's a measure of Porter's success that he is more than able to hold his own in this august company. --Barry Forshaw


"This entertaining second novel by Porter (Remembrance Day) never flags despite a labyrinthine plot whose action extends from the United States to England and on to Eastern Europe. Recommended for all public libraries."

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars coming of age 24 Nov 2001
By A Customer
I felt Henry Porter showed great promise in his first book but tried too hard to fit into the formulae of a thriller per se. Here he comes of age. He writes with authority and verve and great compassion about pressing matters that affect us all, namely war crimes, justice and the nature of Humanity. In a thriller it is unusual to find such matters addressed with such important intellect but Mr Porter pulls it off! I read this book in three 'sittings' pausing only to walk and muse upon Man's Inhumanity to his Fellow Man. What greater tribute could a reader pay to an author.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An above-average thriller 18 Mar 2002
Robert Harland - an ex spy - is flung from a crashing plane, and so begins a tale of intrigue and espionage, culminating in the search for a war criminal. However, what distinguishes this book from more generic spy thrillers is that the characters never become caricatures and that the plot also takes in a personal quest to discover the past.
As Harland unravels war crimes, so he also begins to unravel the consequences of a past love and the two gradually come together as the book progresses.
The book most reminded me of Le Carre, in that the plot becomes complex and murky, while remaining thoroughly gripping. The plotting and characters are good, although the story - let's face it - is more than a little unlikely.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 7 July 2002
By A Customer
This is the best spy thriller I've read since "The Spy Who Camer In From The Cold." Beautifully plotted, not only is it exciting but draws the reader in emotionally too. The passage in which we discover what happened to Tomas in Bosnia brought tears to my eyes. I really look forward to the next Henry Porter novel (and he's a brilliant journalist, too.)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars better than a newspaper 30 Nov 2001
By A Customer
Henry Prorter is emerging as a writer who is unafraid to meet head on the big issues facing us. In his first book which I greatly enjoyed he described the roots of violence in Ireland with power and humour. In this his second book he writes about the Balkans and I for one understood for the first time why Moslems hate Serbs and vice verse. All this was done within the setting of a thriller so that one did not feel one was being force fed facts. Some novelists discuss the human condition,in all its rights and wrongs, and with elegance and erudition. Porter knows his limits and sets out only to light up events and he does so ably. I put this book down feeling as if I understood the Balkans for the first time.I hope Henry Porter lights up the Afghanistan tragedy in his next book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining 11 Sep 2001
By A Customer
I read this book on a short walking holiday of the D Day beaches in Normandy. I usually take only one paperback on such holidays for reasons of weight but made an exception because having greatly enjoyed Mr. Porter's debut novel I was anxious not to miss this one. I greatly enjoyed it. Mr. Porter traverses the Holocaust of the Balkans in a provocative and thought provoking manner. It is fiction but also made me wonder about the nature of Humanity. It made me think. Have we come any further since the savagery of D Day? Mr. Porter forces the reader to conclude have not.The hero Harland is a startling and brilliant metaphor for all of us. He is a man who does not seek redemption but has it forced upon him.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and interesting 28 Aug 2001
By A Customer
I rarely read fiction because I prefer to spend my retirement learning but was given this book as a gift by my nephew. I must say I have hearty admiration for the manner in which Mr. Porter has used "the novel" as a way to communicate fascinating data on a variety of subjects. It would be curmudgeonly to reveal here the actual plot and indeed this was so complex I confess I was often forced to backtrack to pick up the clues and themes. But to a "non fiction" devotee such as myself this was of little import. Mr. Porter has woven into his fictional narrative excellent descriptions of the following matters, namely air safety and the causes of air crashes, comas and the treatment of them, the structure of the United Nations, the manner in which crimes against Humanity are investigated, the historical and legal background to the recent tragedies in the Balkans, secret weapons systems, the working methods of the FBI, the argot of the British Secret Intelligence Services, computer "hacking" and vivid accounts of what Prague, New York and London and trains in Middle Europe are like. I am not qualified to pronounce on the merits of this book as pure fiction but I must say I felt better informed from reading it. I will certainly keep an eye open for Mr. Porter's next book and am sure I will learn more from it about the world around us.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic story, very poorly told... 7 Aug 2011
By jxn
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At the heart of this book is a very well-constructed tale that should by rights hit all the grace notes required for intrigue, suspense, drama and everything else that makes a good read. It starts brilliantly; before you've really had chance to draw breath the protagonist Harland is laden on all sides with shady dealings and unanswered questions that should set up a breathless pursuit of the truth.

Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to its promise largely on account of the turgid writing. Porter doesn't seem capable of identifying the key moments of tension and intrigue in his own story - chapters meander up to and away from multiple revelations as if on a Sunday stroll around the supermarket and then end at seemingly arbitrary points of little or no consequence. When we should be rocked back on our heels at how events are unfolding, and how enmeshed in each others' lives his characters are, instead a moment of inattention will cause you to miss something that the characters themselves barely react to most of the time. And it's not just like this for one or two things, it's on pretty much every page; people die, motives are revealed, agencies plot and manipulate...and at no point do you really feel that anyone cares.

It's like the first draft of a far better novel, as if Porter sat down and took a deep breath and just typed and typed and typed until all his ideas were down and was then too exhausted to tidy it up once he'd finished. And that's a real shame, because if you can stick with it this has a very well-observed and developed story at its core that you're just never encouraged to take much interest in. As a second novel on this sort of subject - and one written a decade ago, no less, in which time a lot has changed - it probably just about passes muster, but I'd advise anyone new to Porter to start on his later work (which I've not read, but he's clearly got more talent than is in evidence here) and then come back to this.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A great spy novel
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found I couldn't put it down; tense action and imaginative twists throughout
. I'm looking forward to the other books in the series.
Published 5 months ago by Mathew J Jones
3.0 out of 5 stars Jake
This thriller started well but unfortunately didn't maintain that standard which was a pity really as the author is an extremely talented writer.
Published 7 months ago by Jake
3.0 out of 5 stars Exciting read.
Exciting but not the best book of this type. Far fetched,tenuous plot. Having said that,quite enjoyed it most of the time.
Published 9 months ago by Kenneth Arundel
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling reading
An intriguing story and beautifully written. A must read for lovers of high quality spy genre, my first Porter novel read but certainly not my last.
Published 11 months ago by Colin Craven
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many bodies?
In the last year I have enjoyed various books by Alan Furst, Philip Kerr and Charles Cumming who write a superior sort of thriller. Read more
Published 13 months ago by D. Land
5.0 out of 5 stars Look out Gerald Seymour and Frederick Forsythe !!
A new author to me, but someone who I will pursue with vigour a great read suggest you spread the word !!9
Published 14 months ago by Paul Staniford
2.0 out of 5 stars Average thriller
Some interesting ideas in this spy story however the characters came across as a little one dimensional. Overly long too: the story could have been edited without losing effect. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Timothy D. Richardson
4.0 out of 5 stars Mark
Excellent read I found hard to read at start but after a few chapters could not put down get it for your holidays
Published 14 months ago by Mark
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a spy novel
Not sure why people compare this to Le Carré. The plot was predictable and the only reason you turn the pages is in the hopes that something might happen. Read more
Published 15 months ago by idic01
4.0 out of 5 stars Covered in cornflakes
One of my tests of a good read, for me at least, is if I take my Kindle down to breakfast and continue to read where I've broken off from the night before, and this is one of those... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Peter L. Clarke
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