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Interesting But Lacks Thrills
on 13 April 2011
It is said that when creating a work of fiction you should 'write what you know'. Chris Morgan Jones has obviously taken that to heart with his debut novel 'An Agent of Deceit'. Hi bio on Amazon states that 'For eleven years...(he)...worked at the world's largest business intelligence agency'. One of the two lead characters in An Agent of Deceit, Ben Webster, works for Ikertu, a fictional 'business intelligence agency' and the whole plot of the book revolves around the activities of that organisation and the world in which it operates.
Its obviously a world that Morgan Jones knows extremely well and finds fascinating. The details of how Webster, Ikertu and the people and companies they investigate all operate feel extremely plausible. You can easily believe that the sort of complex and shadowy corporate structures that are central to the book's plot do exist in real life. You only have to think of recent scandals involving off-shore corporations such as those run by the disgraced financier Allen Stanford to know that such financial duplicity does occur in places such as the Cayman Islands. If you're even vaguely interested in that murky business world then you'll find parts of An Agent of Deceit fascinating.
What it isn't however, is terribly exciting. This a thriller that lacks thrills. There is a palpable sense of menace at times, but little that raises the pulse or keeps you turning pages. Even in the final fifty pages, when events finally begin moving at a more rapid pace, the book doesn't really grip you. With a book like this, that wears its realism like a badge of honour, I wasn't expecting explosions, shootouts or death defying stunts, but Morgan Jones downplays the little bits of action that do occur to such an extent that he robs them of any excitement.
The dearth of action isn't the only problem with the book either. Whilst Morgan Jones works hard to give his characters life and depth and succeeds to some extent he fails to make them terribly compelling. Ben Webster is given a backstory to motivate his involvement that feels a little forced and formulaic, and his stake in events isn't reallt high enough. At no point do you really feel that he is risking much by his involvement in the story. His 'adversary', Richard Lock, is more interesting but too weak and passive, buffetted by events rather than driving them. He's also entirely a victim of his own actions, reducing any sympathy the reader might have for him. As a result its difficult to really care for either man or what they go through during the course of the book.
Finally the 'mystery' at the heart of the book, such as it is, is entirely predictable. The 'twist' at the end came as no real surprise and I struggled to believe that Webster or his colleagues would not have realised the truth far earlier than they eventually did.
So an interesting book at times, if you want to know more about money laundering, doing business in contemporary Russia and off-shore finance, but a pretty weak thriller. Morgan Jones might find the world of 'business intelligence' fascinating and exciting but based on An Agent of Deceit I can't say the same.