on 19 January 2016
Fergus Bannon’s The Heretic is a highly imaginative literary thriller that takes readers on a tour of British agent Dan Erhlichmann’s life, from his upbringing in London to a set of, shall we say, highly charged later-day circumstances in Geneva. We can assume from the outset that Dan has strayed from the path of convention and committed horrible crimes. But how horrible? And are the crimes justified? Through glimpses of his career as a spook outmanoeuvring enemies of the state and other spooks across decades in places like Chile, Hawaii, Eastern Europe, and Scotland, we peer into the protagonist’s thought process and ask ourselves if he’s fundamentally honest (Erhlichmann means honest man) or fundamentally deranged. He’s clever and clinical and believes he’s acting morally, or at least dutifully, but through his obsession with the perceived lies of science (a theme which ties in with competing with the Russians), the reader must decide if Mr. Erhlichmann is deeply disturbed, perhaps nurturing revenge, or working for the very betterment of humankind.
The Heretic is scarcely your typical behind-enemy-lines spy thriller. Indeed, it’s difficult to describe this novel without giving too much away. That said, I’ve never read anything like it. At times, it reads like travel literature. There you are in Valparaiso during the Pinochet era. Now you’re in the Scottish Highlands hunting a pair of Soviet moles. It’s like Paul Theroux mixed with John le Carré laced with Cold War politics, spy-craft jargon, psychoanalytical dialogue, and discussion and rumination about quantum mechanics and the “religion” of science. Oh, plus some romance and graphic violence. You wonder how the writer knows what he does and about where imagination leaves off and reality begins. Is he mining his life for plotline? If so, to what extent? You want to sit down with Mr. Bannon and ask. The Heretic is a fast-moving, superbly conceived, multi-faceted thriller designed for the discriminating reader. Five stars.
on 13 August 2014
I took "The Heretic" on a walking holiday where i was out of the apartment most of the day. yet i read it in three days.
it is thus a bona fide page-turner.
the opening scene is one of such calculated weirdness (since it is the opening scene - can i reveal it without being accused of spoiling ?) let's just say carnage at a physics conference - that one is driven into the narrative to discover (as the night [porter said to George Best "where did it all go wrong")
Professor Bannon (i think it says somewhere in his biog that he reached such heights) weaves his narrative with pace, imagination and plenty of sex and violence if one likes that sort of thing.
What separates this from run of the mill thrillers would be the sub-plot that modern physics is some sort of sham.
Now OK, Feeyman himself said he didn't like renormalisation (for which he got the actual Nobel) calling it "dippy" but quantum mechanics surely works quite well. it has been tested to something like eight decimal places. So i would choose to argue with Prof Bannon on his heretical position. But what a brilliant conceit - to plot a thriller around the putative flaws in quantum mechanics.
I can heartily recommend this work.
If i were to hunt around for someone to whom to comparere Fergus Bannon, I might
go an inch in the direction of Christopher Brookmyre.
on 20 August 2014
I've never read anything like 'The Heretic' before. What starts out like a bildungsroman of a post-WW2 British spy - told like a Len Deighton novel but with a grittier and darker edge than any of the Harry Palmer novels - slowly turns into a sophisticated exploration about our misplaced faith in the certainties of modern physics. Whether Bannon truly believes that our current understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe is based more on bubblegum and shoestring than we'd care to admit is not important. He's crafted a compelling story about the moral dilemmas facing an ageing Cold Warrior, rooted in an espionage story whose detail is completely convincing, whose pace is exhilarating and where the psychological consequences of a lifetime of subterfuge and violence are convincingly drawn. Part thriller, part science fiction, part horror - I was impressed with the way that Bannon managed to blend all these elements together seamlessly. On the basis of this book, I'll certainly check out his other books and look forward to any future novels.