A new spy series: Meet Thomas Dylan

Awakening of Spies by Brian Landers

Today it’s my turn on the blog tour for the first book in a new spy series from Red Door books, written by Brian Landers – a former defence intelligence politico and director of HM Prison Service. With Landers’s pedigree, and given that this book starts in 1973, I was hoping for a spy thriller with a feeling of authenticity for the tradecraft and the period – and that’s what I got.

After a suitably murderous prologue we join our narrator, Thomas Dylan, a linguist, newly recruited to the Ministry of Defence straight from university. He tells us,

The first time somebody tried to kill me was in Holland in 1974. It seems such a very long time ago.

He’d attended an interview with a ‘Mr Smith’, but on discovering that Thomas has Portuguese and Italian rather than Russian or Arabic, Smith passes Thomas onto a colleague.

As I discovered, what Smith meant was that I was not good enough for the Secret Intelligence Service, more popularly known as MI6, but somebody else in Whitehall might have lower expectations.

Thus Thomas finds himself in a desk-bound analyst job at the MoD in the Defence Intelligence Staff, the second-rank cousin to MI5 and MI6. As the weeks go on and he gets to know his bosses and colleagues, he hints that he’d love to go on an op…

It’s a disaster – Thomas gets shot at in Holland and kills a man in self-defence, the target agent, Samovar, disappears. However, the powers that be back at the DIS seem unconcerned. The military device they were seeking then turns up in Brazil, and Thomas is dispatched to retrieve it. He will have to work alongside the British agent in situ, and another young agent, Julia French, who seems to have so much more information than him. However, everyone is after the device, the CIA, the Soviets and more. Thomas finds that he just might be considered expendable – who can he trust? Everyone seems to be lying to him. Thomas must use his wits to sort out what’s happening and stay alive.

In best tradition Thomas Dylan is a true fish out of water. In that respect, Awakening of Spies reminded me of the classic Eric Ambler novel The Mask Of Dimitrios where mild-mannered writer, Charles Latimer finds himself in deep water when embroiled in a murder mystery.

But gosh it gets complicated! Dylan realises that he is a mere pawn in a bigger game – what they haven’t banked on is that he is resourceful and is determined to make it to the other side of the chess board. Like the Ambler novel which takes place in various exciting locations around Eastern Europe and the Bosphorus, the exotic setting of Rio de Janeiro here has the same effect – the heat, the bustle, and the driving adds huge amounts of atmosphere. Yes, there is the possibility of romance between Julia and Thomas – but I can’t tell you if that comes to anything!

I’m particularly fond of novels set in decades before technology totally took over our lives, and that of spies! They have to rely on tradecraft, surveillance and telephones, all making for more traditional action, adventure and relying on one’s wits. Awakening of Spies has all of this, plus our narrator, Thomas Dylan (I keep wanting to call him Dylan Thomas!) is a very likeable young chap, proving himself to be clever and handy, an excellent asset on operations.

Awakening of spies is super twisty and very enjoyable indeed. I’m looking forward to reading the next episode in Dylan’s career – Families of Spies out soon.

Source: Review copy – thank you.

Brian Landers, Awakening of Spies (Red Door, 2020) paperback original, 304 pages. BUY at Amazon UK or Blackwell’s via affiliate links.

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