Review: The Spy Who Haunted Me, by Simon Green

The-Spy-Who-Haunted-Me

(Gollancz 2009: ISBN 978-0-575-07947-2)

(review first published on the now-demised Specusphere website, September 2009)

British author Simon Green has written dozens of novels and short stories, placing him among the ranks of seriously prolific science fiction authors. The Spy Who Haunted Me is the third in his Secret History series.

The name’s Bond – Seamus Bond. Well-known man-about-town and espionage agent. (Hang on a moment – I thought espionage agents weren’t supposed to be well-known?)

But Bond is no ordinary agent. He’s a Drood, in fact: Edwin Drood, up-and-coming player from a powerful, ancient family which sees itself as the guardian of all humanity, doing battle, whenever needed, with the forces of darkness. Most of the people with whom ‘Seamus Bond’ associates would wither and die at the mere thought of the kind of things Edwin has had to do on his previous, most secret, missions.

The Spy Who Haunted Me is Simon Green’s third instalment in a continuing series of espionage/comic-horror pastiches, and there are no prizes for guessing the primary pop-culture reference point for the series (previous titles are Demons are Forever and The Man With The Golden Torc: From Hell With Love is apparently upcoming.) But as with the Seamus Bond persona, the 007 references are mainly just a veneer. For example, there’s little apparent reason, in this instance, for the Spy Who Haunted Me title to this volume: it merely serves to identify the book as one item within the Seamus Bond canon, whatever significance the back-cover blurb might struggle to assign to the title.

But enough on the window-dressing. What of the content?

I haven’t read the earlier volumes, though I suspect I’d enjoy them. Green’s writing is efficient and energetic, and there are some seriously entertaining concepts in Spy: my favourite is the arcane martial art of Deja Fu, whose practitioners know the next moves of their opponents before the opponents do themselves. There’s gadgetry and skullduggery galore, and I’m almost convinced that the only way for Green to have such an encyclopaedic knowledge of the twentieth century’s more crazy conspiracy theories is for him to have staged a fake moon landing, an Elvis disappearance, or an alien invasion or two himself. I can even forgive him for the almost irredeemable lapse in research which sees him describing an Antarctic incident involving polar bears. Spy is a fun yarn, with absolutely no pretensions (that I could detect, at any rate) towards serious literary merit: it’s something to be devoured and then promptly forgotten, much like the popcorn one might buy to eat during a Bond movie. And like the movie itself, the plot is almost incidental: it’s just something on which to hang all the explosions and special effects, something to separate the opening sequence from the closing credits. If it’s escapism you’re after, Spy works pretty well. There’s a tendency for the ratcheting up of tension to become just a little too predictable, and I thought there was a little too much similarity between the various crises faced by Edwin and his dwindling band of colleagues and competitors (and yes, I probably should mention something about the storyline: the book concerns a sequence of challenges presented to Edwin and five other of the world’s greatest spies, in a contest set up by the aged and dying Independent Agent, a shadowy figure at the centre of most of the great moments in 20th century espionage.) Overall, there’s a decidedly modular feel to the story; which doesn’t work against it particularly, except to the extent that it does dampen the drama slightly. (But then, if you’re looking for the sort of novel in which the hero isn’t necessarily guaranteed to survive beyond the story’s last page, you’re probably not going to have picked up Spy in the first place. Escapism, remember?) And, as with every Bond movie I’ve seen, the love interest is obligatory but pretty much incidental to the story.

That’s probably pretty much everything you need to know about this jetpack of a book – it’s lightweight, it’s fast, it’s energetic and it’s fun. And if you like it, you’ll be glad to know that at least one more book is planned for the Secret History series.

Simon Green does not appear to have a personal presence on the web, but there is fannish site at http://www.bluemoonrising.nl/index.html .

 

(Reviewed by Simon Petrie, 2009)

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