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on 18 May 2010
This is a blisteringly good spy thriller: a vivid, gritty, white-knuckle ride that is easily as good as John Le Carre or Gerald Seymour. Misfit British spy Jonah Said is on the trail of his best friend and former agent, Nor, who he believed he had left for dead but who now may be working for al-Qaeda. From the terrorist training camps of Afghanistan to the hellish diamond mines of Africa, from the post-war chaos of Iraq to the storm-lashed waters of the Thames Estuary, the intricate plot has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing right to the end. Don't expect to get much sleep as you walk breathlessly beside Jonah, hunting for his childhood friend, trying desperately trying to prevent a catastrophe more terrible than 9/11. Savage, exquisite writing and meticulous research make this the best novel about asymmetrical warfare I've read in many years. Conway is a star!
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VINE VOICEon 30 December 2010
I'm not an avid reader of spy thrillers, but decided to give it a shot. Prior to reading it I had worrying visions of this trying to be something of a modern version of James Bond. However, I could not have been further from the truth and was not disappointed with what I had read.

The book follows a group of individuals who had previously been part of the now-disbanded `Afghan Guides' - a secret MI6-funded group of soldiers operating in Afghanistan during the 1990s. None of them manage to fully escape their previous lives and are finally all thrust back in to their old ways to try and track down a one-time friend who has now turned on the group and their home country.

By following these individuals in trying to track down a one-time friend, you become fully immersed in the globalised world of espionage and the war on terror where you are only five name-checks away from your greatest ally and enemy.

My only criticism of an otherwise brilliant book would be the amount of space devoted to the characters love lives. Some detail you can do without. Still 5 stars though!
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In A Loyal Spy, Simon Conway takes the reader to the chaos of Afghanistan, Africa and Iraq before ending in London. Pacey, great plots and sub-plots, Simon Conway had me gripped throughout. Jonah Said is a character you can associate with. Great dialgoue throughout, the reader gets a taste of Al Qaeda operatives at their worst. A great read.
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VINE VOICEon 10 March 2011
"He pushed back, slamming his elbows into nearest faces. He stamped on legs and feet. ... In one of his hands [the boy] held a machete and in the other a dismembered head." "Jonah smashed his forehead into Nor's face. Nor's nose split like a ripe fruit ..." "He swung to the right and bit off an ear. The man screamed. ... The screaming man on his right tumbled ... into the path of the falling machete. His skull split like a melon."

No doubt there is a readership for novels of blood and violence. A Loyal Spy moves from Afghanistan to Sierra Leone to the United States, embracing Osama Bin Laden and the Twin Towers, scattering ravaged bodies in its wake. The title may have misled others besides me into assuming this was a book in Le Carré territory. My mistake doesn't mean that others will not enjoy a fast-moving, tough-talking adventure against a topical background, though they may find the "his dearest friend, his bitterest enemy" theme somewhat testing.
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When last we saw Jonah Said, the British Army officer seconded to an ultra-secret MI6 operations group, it was in Rage and Jonah was on a mission snooping in Iraq between the First and Second Gulf Wars.

As created by author Simon Conway, Said is pretty much the most curious fictional secret agent in Her Majesty's service that I can recall. Being born of a Black mother and Palestinian father is itself unusual. But Jonah also carries enormous psychological baggage from failed relationships, plus numerous physical scars, including loss of an eye, from the violence done to his person during his years on the world's gritty edges.

Here in A LOYAL SPY, neither Jonah's mental state nor his physical one are likely to improve much as his latest assignment is to determine if his oldest friend, Nur ed-Din, with whom he played as a boy, joined the Army, and spied in Afghanistan, has gone over to Al-Quaeda. He might even have to kill him.

The story is made complex, perhaps to excess, by chapters that bounce back and forth in a timeline that stretches from 1988 to 2005 from the perspective of two different characters, Said and Miranda, the latter being the former's latest go at a relationship.

Characterizing myself as a linear thinker, the chronological bouncing back and forth took some getting used to, though I eventually came to appreciate the novel's construction by which the author supplied the motives for actions after the acts occurred. Rather clever, really.

Persistence is seen as Said's strongpoint, even by his opponents. Indeed, the energized bunny in the battery commercials has nothing on our hero; the true Englishman, he plays up and plays the game.

My only minor quibble with A LOYAL SPY was that the nefarious plot around which the novel's ending revolved lacked subtlety. However, the WWII freighter SS Richard Montgomery IS sitting on the bottom off Sheerness. (Look it up on Wikipedia). So, why not?

Jonah is such a psychological and physical mess that I'll likely continue with any continuance of the series just to see how he fares. The fact that, to date, the plots of the two Said adventures have been gripping is almost a bonus.
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on 25 February 2012
As with previous reviewers, the three person structure and continual jumping between timelines makes for a convoluted narrative, but I think it works.

The first half of the book really does jump around as we're introduced to the three main protagonists, Jonah, Nor and Miranda. And the back stories mean that the novel jumps around time wise and once or twice I had to check back to find out where I was. The second half is more or less a straight adventure.

That said, it's an intriguing thriller of love and betrayal set against the contemporary field of modern day Iraq and Afghanistan and British and American paranoia and misunderstanding.

The fact that all three characters are either mixed race or had life situations in other parts of the world gives them access to story and peoples that a straight British or American 'hero' would not be able to accomplish, and makes this story all the more interesting.
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on 19 June 2010
it's really rare to find a bourne-type thriller which is both well researched and compelling. A loyal soy gave me more insight about the war in afghanistan than the plethora of 'foreign correspondents' on the news channels or even the so-called experts on the desks at the foreign office. and with a cracking plot to boot.
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on 11 January 2013
this is a wide-ranging, rollicking good read which could do with a Thomas Cook Travel Guide to remind us just which continent we are in now. I was surprised at one time for the action to be taking place just around the corner from where I live in Whitechapel.
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on 30 November 2011
A terrific thriller. Although it helps reading Simon Conway's previous novel Rage first, since it has a lot of the same characters, this one does stand on its own.
Having studied English literature in Edinburgh and having served in the British Army with the Black Watch and the Queen's Own Highlanders and having worked for the HALO Trust clearing landmines in Cambodia, Kosovo, Eritrea and Abkhazia, Simon Conway has more than the necessary knowledge and skills to rock your world with yet another explosive story about the men and women risking everything to defend our nations.
Although he leaves the reader more than enough space to imagine the roughly sketched characters carrying the stories, Simon Conway is fine enough a writer to have them open your mind and rethink some of the values and truths we have come to take for granted.
Comes highly recommended.
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on 16 October 2011
Let me please say first, that I am not an expert reviewer of books. But having read this book, I want to save others having to plough through to the end. The author may know a lot about recent war, but the plot, such as it is, jumps around far too much. It is disjointed , has a poor/rushed ending and the characters are not believeable. Sorry.
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