Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Traitor's Story (Book Review)

Title: The Traitor’s Story
Author: Kevin Wignall
Publication: Thomas & Mercer, trade paperback, 2016
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Six years ago, Finn Harrington, a British espionage agent, was about to retire but agreed to take on one last assignment on his way out – it went disastrously bad and he retired to Switzerland. When 15-year-old Hailey Portman disappears, her parents, who live in Finn’s building and heard rumors about his past from an indiscreet girlfriend, ask him to help when the police seem indifferent. Finn has guarded his emotions closely in recent years and is reluctant to get involved but finds himself investigating Hailey’s disappearance. Once he digs into Hailey’s background, he finds chilling evidence of a connection between Hailey and the disastrous events that ended his first career.

Audience: Fans of thrillers. I read a lot of suspense but not that much espionage and am glad I made an effort to get this one.

What I liked: This is a fast paced and enjoyable story; perfect for summer reading and carries the reader along with sufficient speed to overlook a few holes in the plot. The story is set up in alternating chapters between the puzzling present and the darkness of the past, leading dramatically to what really happened on that final weekend in Kaliningrad. Finn is an interesting character: at first extremely cold and not very likeable. He has reinvented himself as a bestselling historian who gets recognized in airports by fans (not sure this really happens to anyone but David McCullough or Ken Burns, but it’s a nice touch) and his insight to Hailey’s disappearance is intriguing. He is at his best when interacting with her quirky classmate Jonas but otherwise has no friends and has alienated his live-in girlfriend without even noticing. He evolves during the book but it seems clear that he could not move on emotionally from the events of six years earlier until all the remaining questions are resolved (except one that the author shares with the reader at the very end).

What I disliked: Although this is a well thought out novel, the motivation of several characters was perplexing and Finn’s patriotism or lack thereof is never fully explained.  Also, if his enemies hold a grudge, why not just kill him?  On another issue, it was very surprising that several characters say, “Me and X” – I hate grammatical errors was amazed a British writer would get this wrong. Thomas & Mercer is an Amazon imprint but I thought there were actual editors so these errors should have been corrected in manuscript.

Other reading: If you want to read some classic spy novels, try this list (got to love the comparison of The Riddle of the Sand to Swallows & Amazons).  In addition, Wignall has written several other books that look appealing, such as A Death in Sweden.

Source: I got The Traitor’s Story from the Norwood, MA library after reading a glowing review in Publishers Weekly, and recommend it.

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