Written in the 70s when the cold war was still somewhat icy, but the prospect of West/East nuclear war was perhaps not quite so present at it had been a decade before, this book inhabits the complex and tortuous territory of espionage, counter espionage, counter-counter espionage and more.
I didn't know (till reading the review by M.Duncan) that this was a series, with the central character, Marlow, having featured in an earlier book. Not having read the previous book made no difference to me - this book really is 'stand alone' though I'm sure that there may be nuances which I missed.
Though written in the 70s, it has the feeling of a much earlier time, in its writing - 50s - in part because Hone clearly respects his readers' intelligence. Slow paced, extremely dense and thoughtful, the complex plot unfurls, constantly wrong footing and surprising the reader (well this reader, certainly) The plot is driven by the deep and complex ideologies of political belief, the shifting loyalties within personal and sexual relationships, and hinges on the unique personalities of the individual characters.
It is not an 'easy' read, not a modern airport style read - vacuous and flavourless. This is dense, and demands you pay attention, not only to the complex wheels within wheels of the various security and espionage organisations, but also to the subtle and revealing picking apart of individual identity.
Curiously, what prevented me from awarding the final star is the fact that this book IS part of a series! Not knowing that, the final unpacking was slightly disappointing, not the ending that would truly have felt in keeping with the characters. NOW (series!) I understand why
on 19 August 2008
The sequel to Hone's Private Sector finds the hero of that novel, Marlow, where we left him - languishing at Her Majesty's Pleasure thanks to his boss being a KGB mole. Fortunately for Marlow, MI6 aren't finished with him yet. They want him to impersonate a KGB dissident so that he can infiltrate their ranks and shop all the KGB agents on a list. The KGB also want him to do this, so they can find the dissidents and get rid of the Sixth Directorate in the KGB, which is running these dissidents. And Marlow - Marlow as usual doesn't want any part of it, but finds himself inexorably dragged along with the tide. Hone's writing is first class, as usual. If you've read the Private Sector, you'll know what I mean. He's been compared to Greene, but he's more like Ford Madox Ford in the atmosphere of tragic farce that he builds up in thick layers of stylish prose. Watch out for the one of the most terrifying murders you've ever come across in literature, in the United Nations building of all places, freezes the blood. For addicts of spy stories, I thoroughly recommend this...