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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 8 June 2017
Although this book is never lead than readable and very cleverly weaves fiction with fact about UK/US/USSR relations are around the time of the Suez Crisis, this book fails for me on three counts:- firstly Wilson in not a great writer and some sections are either clunky or muddled; secondly, none of the characters seemed realistic; and thirdly, a central plot point (which I will not elucidate upon, is wholly unrealistic. I will probably try another book by the author at some time, but meanwhile, can anyone tell me why this is listed as the first book in the Catesby series, when no character of that name seems to appear.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 May 2014
With The Envoy, Edward Wilson has cleverly written a complex, engaging spy novel and credit to him that he could make someone like me follow, understand and enjoy the whole book because I’ve struggled getting to grips with so many spy novels! The plot was intelligent and interesting – grim but not difficult to read, with great characterisation.

The characters really were excellently written in The Envoy. Of course, being a spy novel, trust, loyalty and betrayal are strong themes. The suspense is built on this premise amongst others and kept my attention throughout, expecting the next twist and yet being caught off-guard when it comes.

Kit Fournier was the most intriguing character – his lifestyle and his choices don’t make him a typical, likeable guy but as the book goes on, and you see how he is affected, I found myself liking him more and more. His characterisation was fantastic, as were the other characters encountered in this novel.

I’m not that aware of politics and obviously The Envoy did have a political edge to it. Mostly this didn’t affect how much I enjoyed the novel although there were a couple of times it went over my head a little. Still, this book was at its best throughout its focus on a spy’s lifestyle – with its lies, deception and great action. A compelling plot with one of the best endings I’ve read made The Envoy end on a brilliant note and me eager to continue with Wilson’s other espionage novels.

4/5.
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on 7 May 2017
I struggled and gave up about after about a third of this book. It represents a genre that I enjoy and the author appears to have a lot of insight into the subject. The writing however is slow and tedious and characters are shallow and uninteresting. And yes, we know that powerful people are cynical and ruthless They may also have bad breath. So? There has to be a plausible human dimension for a story to be interesting and gripping. That's an essential ingredient in books that are unputdownable and it's what you find with the best writers of the genre, like Deighton, le Carré, Furst, to name a few. This story didn't do it for me at all, and life's too short to be waisted on half-measures.
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on 14 June 2015
A well written and plausible thriller. I like the ending.
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What happens when a spy's career goes terribly wrong? Death, random or otherwise, betrayal of country and values and family? And to who or what do a spy's loyalty belong in the first place? Edward Wilson, in his novel, "The Envoy", answers these questions - and more - in a very stylish novel.

Set in London in the mid-1950's, Kit Fournier is a veteran of WW2, from a fairly well-known and well-regarded family, whose members are active in military, science, and diplomatic circles. Kit is the CIA station-chief at the US Embassy in London, though his job his hidden behind a mid-ranking diplomatic title. And as station-chief, he knows and interacts - both covertly and on-the-level - with his counter-parts at the Soviet Embassy and with England's MI5 and MI6. "Interacts" is a nice term for, um, oh, "spy craft". Kit, who lives a life spent by choice in the shadows, regularly trades secrets of his own staff, setting up betrayals for both money and sex, the latter referred to as a "honey-trap". But Kit, that master, consummate spy-master, gets caught up in his own "honey-trap", and the results are shattering to many on all levels of the spying ladder.

The year 1956 was a fairly important one in post-WW2 history. The Tory government of Anthony Eden was dealing with both the Soviets and the Arabs. Control over the Suez Canal was at stake, as well as British development of an H-Bomb. The Dulles brothers, with John Foster as Secretary of State and Allen as CIA chief, served the Eisenhower administration and both were familiar with foreign affairs, particularly those taking place in London. In a world where everyone was bugging everyone else, no embassy in London was considered "safe territory". Kit Fournier knew his own office at the embassy in Grosevenor Square wasn't bugged, but only because he swept it for bugs on a weekly basis.

Edward Wilson writes a clever book about a man caught in the tides of history, and who faces a life of betrayal and death, meted out by the various sides in an on-going war that had no firm sides and no firm loyalties among it's players. This is a good novel, which leaves the reader thinking - and wondering - about "sides" and "loyalty" and, of course, "betrayal".
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on 14 July 2012
The Envoy is a superior spy story that blends real world events and people with a fictional tale. It is complex, multi-layered, atmospheric, full of historical and political insight, and reveals deep insight into human relations. Wilson constructs a compelling and plausible plot that cleverly uses real events, such as the Ordzhonikidze incident in Portsmouth harbour, Britain's hydrogen bomb program, and the Suez crisis, and real personalities such as Allen Dulles, Jack Kennedy and Dick White. He recreates the social landscape of Britain and the wider political atmosphere and diplomatic games being played in the 1950s, providing a deep sense of historical realism (indeed, the bibliography at the end of the book shows that Wilson did a fair bit of research in plotting the book). In particular, Wilson captures the spy's world of deception, lies, betrayals, coercion, blackmail, state-sanctioned murder, paranoia, danger and constant worry, and that half the battle is the games within and between one's own organisations. His characterization is excellent, especially his portrayal of Kit Fournier as a self-reflexive spy racked with self-loathing, yet compelled out of duty and honour to play his role, and he does a good job at exploring the human condition and what drives and shapes people in particular circumstances. Overall, a very well told story, with a couple of nice twists and turns, and an excellent resolution that proves that nothing is as it seems, even to those that think they can see the hand that each party is holding.
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on 1 March 2012
Kit Fournier is a senior spy in 1950s London whose mission is to further American interests by wrecking Britain's relations with Russia, preventing her acquiring the H-Bomb, and thereby making her a more willing vassal of the USA. Although Fournier's nominal enemy is the Soviet Union, then, the majority of his double- and triple-crossing is directed at his own colleagues and allies. In the course of the book he blackmails one colleague, violently assaults a friendly agent to teach him a lesson, fraternises with the KGB and gratifies a sexual obsession with his cousin in the course of recruiting her to spy on her husband.

This book does an excellent, highly plausible job of evoking the bleak landscape of the career spy, and the landscape in question isn't just the physical landscape, but the mental and moral landscape as well.

To say these are awry in Fournier is to put the matter very mildly. One should thoroughly dislike him, but the book's achievement is to use his surroundings to explain his state of mind without labouring the point too hard. And as a result, you don't.

So Fournier's choice of home is a dive in the East End rather than the pleasant pad he could otherwise expect. Almost all houses are cold and unwelcoming. Trysts with his cousin occur in a grotty dilapidated boathouse. The main action and the defections occur in a coastal landscape that feels like the edge of somewhere. His lovers always betray him; the least trustworthy people in his life are his bosses and even his family; the most empathetic character is his KGB counterpart.

In effect, it comes down to whether Fournier's world is as it is because of his actions, or whether the bleakness of his world made him. The view through his own eyes is an unreliable one, and there is a strong sense that he is undone by the world he lives in. As an aside, the atmosphere of Cold War England is skilfully executed and the coda leaves you wondering what to believe. You just have to buy the next book...
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on 11 September 2017
Good novel! It shows the life of a security agent who lives in a world of 'Smoke and Mirrors'.
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on 1 December 2008
This is one of the best spy stories I have read in years. Set in the mid-1950s when the Cold War as at its height and Britain was humiliated over Suez, the book charts the cynical way in which - so the plot has it - the US sought to undermine Britain's attempt to pursue its goals of independent foreign policy, so as to make it possible for the US to station nuclear weapons on UK soil. Even if you think that the Soviet threat to the West was as serious as some Cold War hawks said it was - and I actually side with the hawks - Wilson's plot has lots of convincing detail.

As a person born near the Suffolk coast who was raised there and learned to sail boats in places such as the Orwell estuary, Woodbridge, Aldeburgh and further south, I loved the local details that were woven in to the plot. You can almost smell the mudflats.

I get the impression that the author is a man of fairly strong left/liberal views but he refrains, mostly, from ramming these down the reader's throat and he never quite falls into the trap of making out that somehow the NATO allies were "just as bad" as the former Soviet Empire. Only once or twice did I find the political tone of this book a bit grating. After all, when all is said and done, what Ronald Reagan called the "Evil Empire", with the Gulag, was indeed evil. But there can also be no doubting that the spying activities on all sides in that era were dirty; Britain was not above dropping its NATO allies into trouble, and vice-versa. I thought Wilson's portrayal of J.F Dulles was particularly chilling.

If you like Le Carre or Len Deighton, you will like this book a lot.
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VINE VOICEon 6 May 2012
Edward Wilson weaves the gripping, near psychological, thriller that focuses on the personal angst of the CIA's London Chief of Station as, in the late 1950s, the US, the UK and Russia move into the H-bomb era and - as far as Europe is concerned - the accompanying risk of cataclysmic destruction.

By this time Kit Fournier has become disenchanted with the main players on the world stage whilst his complex relationship with his cousin Jennifer significantly exacerbates the situation. His efforts to resolve conflicts between career, personal relationships and a deeply held responsibility to the State, insidiously drive him towards an ultimate betrayal.

Allen Dulles unspoken decision, as Kit attempts a creditable - but blatantly incorrect - appraisal of the U.K.'s work in developing an H-bomb, is that he can no longer be trusted to play a role within the inner circle of American diplomacy.

At this point The Envoy effectively ends and the storyline continues, with virtually no break, in The Darkling Spy. As Kit Fournier fades out the UK spymaster Henry Bone and his colleague William 'Will' Catesby make an appearance. They both - particularly Catesby - hold centre stage until the end of The Midnight Swimmer.

In a virtual appendix to the Envoy the UK Secret Service neatly solve the question of what to do with the now-discredited Mr Fournier. These nine brief pages, which cover the period between 1956 and the surrender of Argentinian forces on the Falklands in 1982 (and take in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962) are essential reading before you pick up either The Darkling Spy or The Midnight Swimmer.

Yes, they really are...

As a footnote I must add that, to me, the clandestine delivery of a stolen Soviet H-bomb to the UK (for £50 million) was both far-fetched and unnecessary. It did nothing to the story line - and, fortunately, the bomb only went 'pop' instead of 'bang' when tested...
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