Spying is a profession of cold betrayal and emotionless calculations. Somewhere along the way you will find yourself alone behind enemy lines, unearthing the higher source, hoping to make an escape without losing your life when the intelligence provided fails to match the promise.
The Agent Runner by Simon Conway, a former British Army officer, comes fast and furious, webbed between the lives of a few people locked within the world of espionage, travelling from one place to the other and then another and then back to the start, followed by some more movement — all between London, Lahore, Afghanistan, the Hindu Kush and even Dubai.
This classic tale of spies and subterfuge is, at first, a brisk walk and then a run between the stories of many lives
narrated in the book. These are stories of cross, double-cross and triple-cross, where readers learn some uncomfortable truths about modern-day politics and those thirsty for power.
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Ed Malik, an M16 spy, whose heritage is from both the East and West, is in the midst of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, with the trap almost set. Malik runs into an agent, Nightingale, who is at the heart of the ISI, and feeds information to the British. But what follows next is the Americans’ execution of bin Laden and Nightingale’s cover being blown. Bang. Nightingale gets shot. Malik is dismissed. But not long after, he is sought again.
It is not the events — as familiar as they may seem — that lift the book. As interesting as it is to get insight into the secret intelligence world operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the characters — complex, flawed, wayward — are the ones that keep the reader going, but are always a step or two behind.
These characters had their qualms and reasons for doing what they did — their mind a mess of all they had seen, done and executed. They are driven by their paranoia, their means of obtaining something for themselves, yet hoping to make changes in a dark world. But they themselves are dark, blotted, scarred, “starting out full of optimism, with a belief in progress,” but finding out that all you can do in this world “is make monsters.” The drive for vengeance is always present. We are never allowed to forget the horrendous and frightening world we live in. And because the writing is no literary phenomenon, the book is easy to read, yet tense, barely giving the reader a chance to draw breath. It doesn’t stop ticking, even when the author pauses to describe each setting in depth.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2015.
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