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on 22 June 2016
This is spy story, just cant remember what possessed me to buy it. It was published in 1971 so it must have been written around the mid/late sixties. There is one five-star review for it on Amazon by someone who obviously really loves it. It is part of a new series from Faber re-publishing what they consider to be overlooked classics; the cover blurb compares it favourably to people like Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and other British, gritty spy story writers [not the dirty old man; LeCarre came later]. Goodreads reviewers aren’t so obliging with several complaining about the amount of unnecessary backstory which results in a loss of pace.

It is clunky in places. His favourite word is like. Everything has to be like something else; maybe that’s how they wrote in the mid-sixties. Perhaps that was what editors and publishers considered ‘good writing’, so you get sentence after sentence like this one:

‘. . . he spaced the words out quietly and very precisely, like a nanny giving a last warning . . .’

And here:

‘. . . but what shall we do - what plans do they have?’ She went on, like a traveller stuck in a midland junction on a winter Sunday morning; upset but still confident’.

Wears thin.

The story is set in Egypt, just before the six-day war and concerns two British spies one of whom is a Russian double-agent; spy number one is sent out to Cairo to find him and eliminate him. They are quite good characters but the great character is the woman, Bridget with whom they are both in love. She is a fantastic creation: so nuanced and real that she just must be based on a real person. Hone himself lived and worked in Egypt around this time so perhaps she is based on someone he knew.

Am I recommending this? Possibly. It is dense and by and large I like dense as long as it is going somewhere and the characters are three-dimensional and the situation believable. There is some terrific writing in there, however. Try this:

And the revolution had come; others had brought it, sought death for it, defined it . . . you were buying stamps in the General Post Office at the time. Never mind. It was just what you always talked about in the village café, it had come to pass exactly as you had said . . . it was yours, your number had come up at last. You were out in the streets for the rest of the week, you yelled more than anybody and looted a little. And later you bought a jacket to go with the trousers and had a word in someone’s ear . . . a friend of your uncles who had actually been seen with a stick in his hand on the first day.
Now the ranks had closed again after the whirlwind, you met the fixers again, the ones you’d rallied against in the village, only they wore suits now . . .

More of that please and you might have written an all-time classic.
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on 25 October 2016
I read the Telegraph obituary of Joseph Hone and thought it worth a look at his work.This novel is undoubtedly a work of art, a picture in words bringing to life Cairo post Suez and the scramble to influence events. Hone takes a third of the book to construct the scene as a spider constructs its web. Thereafter the reader is sucked into a rather sticky plot where the characters and the reader find themselves enmeshed.
The author is Irish, and in the best tradition of Irish authors has a love affair with the English language, but here this tends to work against the best pace of a spy story. Patience is required from the modern reader more used to a pacier tempo. A worthwhile time-out from the usual fare.
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on 19 August 2008
Impatient readers, read a Robert Ludlum thriller instead. Joseph Hone is a slow burn. It takes a full 80 pages (I counted them) for something to actually happen in this book. The writer spends the rest of it building up atmosphere, characterisation and background, layers and layers of it, until you are in an Egypt you can actually feel... Then the story kicks in - Marlow is sent from London to pick up a rogue agent, Edwards, who may or may not have gone over to the KGB. Oh yes, and Israel is about to kick off the Six Day War and there is a traitor in Holborn Control. Hone's equisite writing is a revelation to afficionados of the spy genre. He's like Graham Greene, Ford Madox Ford and John Le Carre rolled into one. Once you've got the taste for him, there's nothing quite like it. The fact that he is out of print is both inexplicable and a shocking crime. Read and enjoy
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on 5 December 2016
Good for what it cost. Type a bit small for me now and too close to the spine for comfort. but ok
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on 9 November 2016
A little slow-moving to start but wonderful characterisations are being built. The twists are shockingly satisfying and make it worth staying the distance.
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on 12 November 2016
I just cannot follow it.who is double crossing who
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