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on 9 August 2010
1956. British spies Burgess and Maclean have defected to Russia leaving relations strained between the U.S. and Britain. Other "Cambridge" spies are suspected to still be at large. Who is "The Darkling Spy"? This is never quite answered, it is after all the Cold War.

Disinformation and double bluff are the rule of the day and practised by all Intelligence Services, East and West. "You were never certain if you were among those who would sheild you or those who would betray you." These are the thoughts of the novel's hero, Lowestoft born William Catesby, Intelligence Officer, SIS (known now as MI6). Catesby is sent on a mission by his enigmatic patron, superior SIS officer and Director Henry Bone. Catesby's brief is to track down dangerous agent provocateur "Butterfly" who works in the Eastern bloc. Britain's future relations with America are at stake as Butterfly has damaging information about other Cambridge spies. Catesby and Bone are on the same wavelength although Catesby is always a few steps behind, "he realised that he didn't know him (Bone) at all." As Catesby gleans snippets of information about "angel-faced" but devil hearted Rudolf Ralswiek, Butterfly, the reader is not left in the dark for long because Wilson regularly intersperses the action with dialogue between Bone and Catesby which helps slot the pieces together.

Edward Wilson as in "The Envoy" evokes 1950's London at the centre of power but also portrays its precarous position as Catesby ponders Britain's potential destruction in an East West nuclear holocaust, "the Thames will vanish in a hiss of steam like spilt water on a hot stove". Catesby is promoted to Head of Eastern Europe Section and his advice is now sought by the powers that be. The Suez crisis will require a Russian hard line response to the Hungarian uprising due to Kruschev not being able to appear weak following his secret speech denouncing Stalin. Why can't the Hungarian rebels see the bigger picture, who has been stirring up anti Soviet feeling there? Catesby is posted to revolution torn Budapest on the trail of Butterfly to the soundtrack of "the iconic clanking of steel treads (Russian tanks) on paving stones" and "the pounding rifle butts, fists and kicking boots" of the crowd as the mood turns ugly outside Secret Police H.Q.. The action switches to Berlin, "the espionage swamp" of a city where rumours run rife amongst the International community. Catesby's socialist leanings come in handy when he is ordered to defect. Catesby's fake defection and quest for Butterfly end in the dignified surroundings of elusive East German Spy Chief, Mischa Wolf's remote country mansion.

The bantering between Bone and Catesby is very enjoyable. Bone reminded me of grand puppet master Francis Urquhart in "House of Cards" in that he only tells Catesby everything "he needs to know" but becomes as mute and "as skeletal as his name" when Catesby asks a question too far. Catesby is a likeable hero who remains loyal to his superiors and to his country. Unlike James Bond, he shows family loyalty and human vulnerability. At times he appears as baffled as the reader as the plot twists and turns, "Catesby stared at the kitchen table. He wanted to find a grain of wood that didn't change is shape the more you looked at it". He knows that spying means "you got paid and promoted for lies and exploitation of others" and "no one could risk loving a spy" as he discovers at great personal cost.

This is an excellent novel with no obvious political goodies and baddies. East and West do not seem so far apart - are Mischa Wolf and Henry Bone in collusion with each other? It's all a matter of playing the game and walking a tightrope "that sways between loyalty and treason". John le Carre would approve.
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VINE VOICEon 24 April 2012
When I reviewed The Midnight Swimmer last month I commented that, as a Cold War spy thriller, it was in the same class as anything written by either John LeCarre or Len Deighton. 'The Darkling Spy' involves the same main characters whilst the story line predates 'The Midnight Swimmer' by a few years.

I had been amused by Edward Wilson's somewhat peculiar comment at the very back of 'The Midnight Swimmer' that 'This is a work of fiction. 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 a novel or that they have spoken, thought or behaved in the way I have imagined.' This disclaimer also appears at the back of 'The Darkling Spy'.

In reviewing 'The Midnight Swimmer' I'd established that the thriller's Jim Angleton had the same bombastic and unpleasant personality traits as a certain James Jesus Angleton who, in real life and from 1954 to 1975, held the extremely influential position of Associate Deputy Director of Operations for Counterintelligence. This period, of course, spans the timeline of both thrillers.

The reappearance of Jim Angleton, still CIA's Head of Counterintelligence, in 'The Darkling Spy' suggested it would be an interesting exercise to check whether any of Mr Wilson's other 'fictitious' characters had actually existed during the Cold War period.

It quickly became apparent that 'The Darkling Spy' skilfully involves a number of individuals who, in real life, had shaped the history of that period and whose doppelgänger equivalents play important roles in the thriller. In addition to James Angleton they include:

· William King "Bill" Harvey, who really was the American West Berlin Chief of Station in the 1950s,
· Aleksandr Feklisov, a highly successful Soviet spy who recruited the traitors Julius Rosenberg and Klaus Fuchs,
· Markus Johannes "Mischa" Wolf, the head of the foreign intelligence division of East Germany's Ministry for State Security,
· Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi of the German Democratic Republic between 1957 and 1989. After German reunification he was tried and convicted of murdering two police officers in 1931,
· Imre Mezo, secretary of the Budapest HWP committee who was inside their Budapest headquarters during the siege. He was amongst the first parliamentarians to emerge from the building; they were fired upon and Mezo died of his injuries a few days later,
· Yevgeny Pitovranov who really was head of intelligence for the 1st Chief directorate of the Soviet MGB between 1950 and 1953.

Mr Wilson also, and equally cleverly, positions two of his main characters in Budapest during the tragic uprising of October/November 1956, an uprising that was ultimately - and ruthlessly - put down by the Soviet forces.

In addition, Rudolph Ralswiek - one of his fictitious characters (aka the double, triple or perhaps quadruple agent Butterfly) - is portrayed as being responsible for betraying the German strategic plans for the Battle of Kursk (arguably the greatest tank battle in history) to the ultimately victorious Russians.

'The Darkling Spy' (darkling = occurring or enacted in the dark) is an extremely well written thriller built around, whatever Mr Wilson claims, real life characters and real life events. I found it almost impossible to put down.

Updated comment, 5th May 2012

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 completely unexplained - but apparently relevant - appearance in both thrillers.
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on 18 August 2011
An engrossing and intelligent Cold War thriller. Mr Wilson catches post-war Britain very well. The denouement is a little less than satisfactory though. I feel he handles character better than action.
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on 18 June 2011
A graphic portrayal of the world of the Cold War spy in which the only certainty is that no-one can be trusted, least of all your own side.
Gripping read.
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on 20 October 2011
And that title is an example of the kind of stylistic tic that affects Mr Wilson. "Why does", I wonder, "He write in that bizarre way?"

A shame, because there's a lot of interesting stuff in this book, particularly in the awkward Catesby-Bone relationship. But in the end the narrative line suffers from complexity-for-the-sake-of-complexity, and a lack of focus. I hope Mr Wilson writes another book, because there's real potential here.
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on 2 August 2015
Edward Wilson has one obsession: the love-hate relationship between the US and UK. His favorite scenario is that the crazies in the US (Dulles brothers, General Le May etc. will launch an attack against the Soviet Union which retaliates by destroying the UK (because they still cannot reach the US). This makes the US friends actually more dangerous than the USSR. He illustrates this theory with the help of his favourite cast of characters, an agent with connections to the british traitors, tangled love relationships etc. with Russian and East German women playing the role of Virgin Mary... There is always a strong whiff of docu-fiction so the reader learns a lot of Cold War history. You need not read the books in sequence, but on the other hand if you read the newest first, you will get to know older plots. Every book contains new twists to the characters, but the main character stays about the sime, unhappy, suspicious, strongly anti-american.
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on 27 July 2013
I was a bit frustrated with the first half of this book, though the second half pulled the threads together superbly. Edward Wilson is a great writer of spy novels, though I don't think I am reading reading his books in the appropriate order it won't spoil too much enjoyment, but could help others who have yet to read any of the series to do it right and get the most out of the 'back story'.
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on 9 November 2012
For me, this was a most enjoyable read. Edward Wilson manages to capture the drabness and depression of post-war Europe, particularly in those countries under brutal Communist rule. The book reminds us of the tragic events in Hungary when Russian tanks destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the Hungarian opposition, and how our secret services really were secret - that is, until the Cambridge spies were revealed. The story provides sufficient excitement to keep the reader turning the pages, but it is peopled with characters that are all flawed in one way or another. One is left with feeling that it would interesting to know something of their later lives.

Thoroughly recommended.
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on 13 July 2013
This book has more twists and turns than a game of snakes and ladders, and like snakes and ladders it makes you realise just how pointless the Cold War was, paranoia and danger is everywhere and the danger starts within the characters and continues untill the last this book it's well worth it.
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on 24 May 2015
Well written, very complex plot that exposes the terrible world of espionage and I don't think has changed much. From the people I know and knew within the secret world there are no boundries. The ending is quietly sinister. This is not James Bond but it is quite similar to John le Carré which is a considerable compliment to the author.
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