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on 27 April 2013
Initially ,I was unsure whether I would read this tale of intelligence work as I found it difficult to 'like' the main protagonist. But I persevered and soon reached the stage where I did not want to put the book down.a Well crafted tale of British Intelligence work and the uneasy relationship with US (andother) intelligence agencies,plus treachery.Worth the effort
I am now reading all his other books
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on 2 February 2012
I have spent some months since reading and re-reading Edward Wilson's three spy novels, trying to identify what it is about them that I like so much. It hasn't been easy, but I think I'm getting there.

The first remarkable thing the writer does is mess, very skilfully, with your head. Without wanting to give anything away, it is all but impossible to reconcile the ending of any book in the series to the beginning of the next. The events simply fail to match up, even though all that's changed is the character from whose perspective they are described.

This feature is of a piece with the dialogue - which gets markedly better from one book to the next. Characters often make remarks that are either too pat, or too neat, or simply sound out of period; taken together with the previous point, you find yourself wondering whose account of events you are actually reading.

For all that these are ostensibly spy novels, they subvert most of what you thought you knew about the Cold War. The spies spend the overwhelming majority of their time spying not on their enemies, but on their allies. The main theme of The Envoy, for example, is America's attempts to ensure Britain does not get a thermonuclear weapon, because this will mean Britain cannot be expended absorbing a Russian first strike. Russia, meanwhile, works energetically to make sure Britain does get a thermonuclear bomb, because although this might be bad for Russia, it would destabilise America more.

In these novels, spying breeds traitors. Spies routinely expect to be betrayed - and indeed expended - by their colleagues, their superiors, their families and their underlings. The most trustworthy people are almost always the other side, because they can be bargained with. Spies themselves have their own agenda. Here, William Catesby, for example, doesn't much care who wins the Cold War, as long as his own country physically survives.

The events here are those of 50 years ago. These are, in effect, historical novels. The historical novel is normally derided because the typical author writes hopelessly wooden characters who fail to drive the historical events credibly. Instead, events are forced onto the characters, who have to fit around them. And then you just don't believe it. Anything by Robert Graves is a stellar exception to this rule, and Edward Wilson's novels are exceptions too. Here, for example, we are presented with an inside account of the real reason why Marilyn Monroe really sang "Happy Birthday" to JFK for his 45th birthday party. I laughed out loud, and came away convinced that it really happened this way. It is often noted that in a Frederick Forsyth thriller you can't actually tell where he stops relating genuine history and where he starts making it up for narrative effect. There is the same seamless plausibility here. Other historical figures are inserted believably into the events, with Robert Kennedy getting particularly unsympathetic treatment, and Che Guevara doing rather well. I have no idea if these portaits are accurate, but they convinced me.

Perhaps inevitably, characters become unable to distinguish between the values they are supposed to be defending and those they are supposed to subverting. Take them out of their comfort zone and they lose their political and even their moral bearings, so that espionage itself begets betrayal.

If you came to any of EW's novels expecting the kind of thing that John Le Carre wrote, I think you would be surprised. It's not all about fiendishly clever double-crossing; not really. On reflection, these are not spy novels at all. They are about how people are morally constructed, about what drives them, about what they value and about what pulls them apart under pressure. In sentiment, and in their focus on character and trust and on where these come from, they are much more literary - so much so that Wilson appeared to me to be channelling Joseph Conrad at times. If the writer of Lord Jim and Nostromo, a Tale of the Seaboard were writing today, I suspect he'd be doing something very like this.

After reading these three books twice, I felt like I had read a reinvention of the spy and the historical novel in one pass.

And I really, really want to believe all the stuff about J. Edgar Hoover.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Author Edward Wilson was born in the USA and served in Vietnam as an Officer with the 5th Special Forces. He became a naturalised British citizen in 1986 and for the last 30 years has lived and taught in Suffolk. 'The Midnight Swimmer' is his fourth book.

Mixing historical times, places and people with fiction is not a new genre but Wilson does in such a seamless, plausible and convincing way I sometimes had to stop and remind myself I was reading a spy novel, not a work of historical non - fiction. Or was I? Mr Wilson knows his subject well, in this case the ramping up of Cold War tensions in the early 1960's.

Khrushchev is in the Kremlin, desperate to make the West believe the Soviet Union has a much more potent and long range nuclear armory than they actually possess.

Fidel and Che in Cuba willing to allow the Soviets to construct and operate a nuclear missile base in Cuba thus threatening the whole United States.

A youngish JFK in the White House after his father Joesph had supposedly 'purchased' his election victory, trying to live up to his 'macho' image by bedding every secretary or female aide in sight ("the most exciting 30 seconds of my life" said one young lady recipient of the President's sexual favours) and trying to contain hawks from the Chiefs of Staff who want a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviets. The method suggested that Kennedy Snr used to launder the cash he needed to pay off the mob in Chicago and other 'election' expenses is simplicity itself but of course is a work of fiction. Must be - the author says so at the end of the book.

Into the mix throw the Brits who would decidedly come off worse in any nuclear exchange between the super powers due to their home grown nuke bases plus all the American ones on several bases in the U.K. As Khrushchev once said "In the event of nuclear war, Britain would be sunk like an obsolete aircraft carrier". Maybe the Soviets did not have any/many missiles that could reach the USA but they sure had enough to wipe the UK off the map.

Our 'hero', Catesby, is a 'Cultural Attache' or whatever titles were given to spies operating out of British Embassies abroad, he is a proud member of the British working class who loves his country but is not at all keen on the pompous, public school educated, upper class, establishment types who run it. I guess he is probably a closet socialist. Being as he is fairly expendable and is trusted by the Soviets, although disliked by the Americans, Catesby is used by H.M.G. as a secret envoy to try and use his powers of persuasion to defuse the Cuban missile crisis having been authorised by London to offer a secret deal to Moscow without U.S. knowledge.

There is a fine line between being a spy for your country and being a traitor, also which is the greatest crime - betraying your country or betraying the one you love?

This very sophisticated story is full of twists and turns, the characters (both imaginary and real)are totally credible and I found I could get 'involved' with them. The author is equally at home with the grubby and darker side of the spy trade at ground level as he is with the total immoral and cynical dealings at high government level. All in all a roller coaster of a read although it would help if you have some understanding of the Cold War and especially the Cuban Missile Crisis which probably bought us as close to a nuclear holocaust as we have yet been. The one thing I loved and am quite likely to believe for the rest of my life is the reason given for Marylin Monroe singing 'Happy Birthday'to JFK. I believe it even though I know 'The Midnight Swimmer' is a work of fiction. Isn't it?

I have become an instant fan of Mr Wilson's documentary/historical novel style and intend to read his three previous titles which I believe are written in the same format and look forward to much more of the same from the author's creative and rather progressive attitude to blending history, fact and fiction into extremely readable stories, in this case nearly 300 pages worth.

Hate to go on but this book really did knock me out.
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on 25 February 2013
Like many enjoyable books, took a while to set the scene and establish the lead character. Once into its stride a very enjoyable read with ambitious scope, from Berlin, London, Washington to Havana, successfully evoking the paranoia of the height of the cold war. I loved the description that the protagonists were playing different games, the Americans poker and the Russians chess.
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on 7 February 2016
This was a bit heavy going. I've got to like Wilson's novels but this on didn't really cut it for me. It had his trademark twisting plots and characters, Cold War setting and tales of spycraft, with his usual combination of fictional and real life characters. Normally this blend works well but the real life ones were just too prominent in this one, Che Guevara and the Kennedy brothers in particular. Catesby, as a middle level spy enjoys the kind of access a head of state would be proud of. So when Che stops his car to let him in, to find the other occupants are a french spy who has just tried to kill Fidel Castro and the head of the Havana KGB station, to go car surfing down a flooded Malecon, it all begins to feel a bit ridiculous. Add to that the fact that Catesby is having an affair with the latter's wife, which the latter approves of, and Catesby clocked the French lady by chance in a Washington jazz club, it all becomes highly convoluted. Catesby's near death escapes also lack credibility: after escaping a hitman waiting in your hotel room I guess you would casually get a cab and go to a jazz club.

For all that, Wilson still evokes the sense of time and place with his usual flair. And the tensions of the Cuban missile crisis are palpable. But one of his better books this isn't.
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on 15 September 2015
The Midnight Swimmer (for me an impulse buy based on its title and a reference to Suffolk!) is a tale of Cold War espionage covering iconic moments of sixties politics and history, in particular the Bay of Pigs and Cuba crises, and in the UK the Profumo Affair and the role of the MacMillan government. Remembering these from my childhood it was illuminating to have them recounted from the point of view of the professional agent and later ‘back-channel diplomat’ Catesby and to step briefly into his world of espionage, counter espionage and the bewildering relationships between governments and their agencies, most of whom, while working against each other, seem to live in each others’ pockets.
What I particularly liked was something in the style and voice of the writer that convinced me that the world he portrayed was real, or at least authentic in the impression it made, and this is what kept me kept me engaged through a long and wide-ranging narrative that moved from Europe to London and back again, as well as to Cuba and the USA. Occasionally I felt the detail and number of characters was excessive (shades of documentary) and once or twice (particularly in the Arlekin episode) I saw information being deliberately held back from the reader which is always a bit irritating, but all in all I thought this was a successful and engaging portrayal of a complex character in a very complex world, forced to deal with a constantly shifting vista of smoke and mirrors. .Most of all he struck me as a real spy caught up in a chilling but real story. A good impulse!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 May 2014
The Midnight Swimmer is the continuation of Edward Wilson’s class espionage series and the striking cover is not the only remarkable thing about this book. Each book in this series has been an improvement on the one that came before, which considering they’ve all been brilliantly written, is a good sign. I was glad to see the return of Catesby in this book and his character went from strength to strength in The Midnight Swimmer, which with its outstanding prose, was Edward Wilson’s best yet.

The plot, like Wilson’s others, is a little cynical and full of strong historical links. The Midnight Swimmer has a combination of real life personalities such as JFK and fictional characters too. It all makes a fascinating story, one you know is fiction and yet is so plausible and convincing, you have to second guess it for a moment. The humour in this novel stood out for me too, like the reason why Marilyn Monroe sang happy birthday to JFK and other moments where Wilson’s effective wit was used.

I loved the strong characters, the patriotism, the historical background, the dialogue and a lot more too. There’s just so much to like about The Midnight Swimmer from an author who simply gets better and better. That Wilson writes novels in a genre I rarely pick up and makes me love them leaves me in awe. The Midnight Swimmer is a stunning novel written by a fantastic author and I have to recommend this book because it would be a waste for Wilson’s talent to go unrecognised.

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VINE VOICEon 26 March 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
As a Cold War spy thriller 'The Midnight Swimmer' is in the same class as the works of Len Deighton and John LeCarre - although the reason behind that rather enigmatic title doesn't become clear until, towards the end of the novel, a couple of the protagonists decide to go for a rather long late night swim...

When I started to review 'The Midnight Swimmer' I didn't realise it was Edward Wilson's third thriller and that the same key characters appeared in his two prior books. The first, The Envoy, focuses on Cold War events in the early 1950s and is followed by The Darkling Spy, set in 1956 and dealing with the on-going relationship between the British Secret Service, the American CIA and their counterparts in various Soviet satellites.

*** It's virtually essential that, as the saying goes, you read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the the last nine pages of first thriller of the series The Envoy before starting on either The Darkling Spy or The Midnight Swimmer. Otherwise you'll find yourself wondering why a certain Kit Fournier (and Jennifer) make a brief, completely unexplained - but apparently relevant - appearance in both thrillers.***

Although we're dealing with the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis Edward Wilson notes, on the very last page of the book (just after a five-page listing of various published papers and reports clearly used as background material) that 'The Midnight Swimmer' is a work of fiction.

He concludes with the rather strange words 'When I have used official titles and positions, I do not suggest that the persons who held those positions in the past are the same persons portrayed in the novel or that they have spoken, thought or behaved in the way I have imagined.'

That struck me as a somewhat inaccurate and unnecessary caveat since, at a critical point in the story, we were introduced to the bombastic and somewhat unpleasant Jim Angleton, CIA's Head of Counterintelligence. A subsequent check on Google showed that a certain James Jesus Angleton held this extremely influential position from 1954 to 1975: he apparently had a similar personality and resigned just as President Ford (and various Congressional committees) announced the launching of enquiries into certain of his activities regarding the surveillance of antiwar protesters and domestic dissidents.

But this is a minor point and, as a spy thriller, it deserves those five stars.
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on 12 July 2013
This is my first Edward Wilson book.
I enjoyed the writers style and characters, and the story was well constructed and engaging.
The references to real historic events and political personalities gave the story breadth and credibility to drape on. Whether the book makes accurate use or interpretation of the events doesn't really matter - they certainly could be.
I will definitely be seeking out other novels by Mr Wilson.
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on 20 February 2016
A very good spy thriller built around the Cuban missile crisis and a sobering reminder of how close the world came to nuclear annihilation. Occasionally the pace is a little too slow but the last few chapters are gripping. The writer clearly knows his stuff.
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