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The Envoy

av Edward Wilson

Serier: William Catesby (1)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
678315,943 (3.74)1
As an H-bomb apocalypse hangs over London, Kit Fournier faces a crisis of the soul. The unveiling of his own dark personal secret proves more deadly than his coded despatches.

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This was a strong read that faltered in the final chapters when the style and the timescales changed.

Most of the book is an immersive experience. The reader lives inside Kit Fournier's head. It's not a pleasant place to be, he's not a pleasant man, but it's vivid and it feels real. Kit is the CIA Chief of Station in the American Embassy in London in 1955. He's an odd man. He's an isolated, self-contained man, with no friends, limited contact with his family and no lovers. He's in the grip of a long-term sexual obsession with a female cousin who he grew up with. He's a man with inherited wealth that he refuses to use. He has a talent for languages, an appreciation of foreign cultures, a contempt for the vulgar business-oriented policies of his political bosses and no strong political ideology.

What hooks him into being a spy? Well, that's what a lot of the book is about.

One of the things that drew me to the book was the way Wilson brought the insanity of the 1950's arms race to life. This is the first novel I've seen in a while that shows the threat that America under Eisenhower posed to the world. The US had the H-bomb. The Russian's were just developing one. Neither the Brits nor the French had one and America wouldn't share. The US was the only country to have used a nuclear weapon. Now they a weapon a thousand times more powerful than the two bombs dropped on Japan, They had a President who saw the H-bomb as an extension of his armoury that gave a tactical advantage in the war against communism and a military leadership that was recommending a pre-emptive strike on Russia with Europe as an acceptable tactical loss.

Wilson turns this background from a history lesson into something much more threatening by letting us see it through the eyes of Kit Fournier, a man who knows all the players and where the bodies are buried We watch him running schemes to destroy detente between the USSR and the UK and to subvert British efforts to have their own H-bomb. The book is rich in historical detail and anecdotes about public figures that never make it into the schoolbooks.

None of the characters in the book is pleasant but somehow the Americans come across as worse than the rest. It displays an American political elite that was arrogant, aggressive and corrupt. The was the white supremacist America of McCarthy and Hoover. Think Trump, only competent.

I liked Wilson's writing. His people are real, drawn perhaps with more insight than empathy but still real. His evocation of the Suffolk coast is very vivid. He clearly loves it. The voice he gives to Fournier manages to engage and repel at the same time. I believed in this man as much as I disliked him.

The plot is complicated and populated with people for whom betrayal, violence and deception are their stock in trade. It had several twists in it that I didn't see coming and enough momentum to make me eager to turn the pages.

Then the pace changed. Suddenly we were covering decades in a few pages and getting political outlines dumped as case reports. It was like moving from close up shots of faces with intense dialogue to aerial shots of a football game with a play by play commentary. It worked, but I didn't enjoy it. I'd have been happier if the book had finished a few chapters earlier, even though that would have left a few things up in the air.

Even so, I want to read more of Wilson's books. GoodReads and Amazon both list 'The Envoy' as the first book of Catesby spy series but it isn't. 'The Envoy' is a standalone book. My next Edward Wilson book I'll read will be the first Catesby book, 'The Darkling Spy'. Published two years after 'The Envoy' and set in 1956, it introduces Catesby, a British spy on a mission in Eastern Europe.
( )
  MikeFinnFiction | May 10, 2021 |
Very patchy; promising in terms of the general plot & background historical context. Actual execution of the plot left a lot to be desired whilst characterisation was a let down. As regards the stuff with the cousin, that was just weird.
Comparisons to le Carre are largely without merit. Whoever in the Tribune thought that Wilson was "the thinking person's John le Carre" should really cut back on the herbal cigarettes. ( )
  syllabub | Feb 25, 2021 |
Although this book is never lead than readable and very cleverly weaves fiction with fact about UK/US/USSR relations are around the time of the Suez Crisis, this book fails for me on three counts:- firstly Wilson in not a great writer and some sections are either clunky or muddled; secondly, none of the characters seemed realistic; and thirdly, a central plot point (which I will not elucidate upon, is wholly unrealistic. I will probably try another book by the author at some time, but meanwhile, can anyone tell me why this is listed as the first book in the Catesby series, when no character of that name seems to appear. ( )
  johnwbeha | Jun 8, 2017 |
Kit Fournier, the protagonist of Edward Wilson's excellent espionage novel, is the CIA's 'Head of Station' within the American Embassy in London in the 1950s. Britain is still riven with post-war austerity and is struggling to retain its self-image as an international power. Both America and the USSR have tested nuclear weapons, and Britain wants to join the club. America, however, is less keen on such a step and refuses to share the technology, preferring to use Britain as a fixed aircraft carrier for its own nuclear deterrent.

Fournier is essentially patriotic, fervently supporting America's interests though occasionally his conscience pains him. As the novel develops he launches his own operations to confound the Soviets, but also to try to distance his British counterparts.

Wilson expertly weaves historical figures into his novel, which is as intricate and elaborate as le Carre at his best. There are cameo appearances from John Profumo, John F Kennedy and Sir Dick White (at different times head of both MI5 and MI6). Real events are woven into the story, too, including the visit to Portsmouth of the Soviet destroyer Ordzhonikidze and the ill-fated expedition by veteran diver Buster Crabb to explore its hull looking for evidence of any super new technology.

The use of real characters and events helps to give a deep verisimilitude, and the plot is developed with great care. All told, a very successful and gripping novel. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Sep 24, 2015 |
The precursor to The Darkling Spy. Kit Fournier is a career spy for the United States, stationed in Britain. Hopelessly in love with his married cousin Jennie, chasing the trail of a nuclear weapon in Britain, and badly compromised by the Soviets. Kit crosses paths with many non-fictional characters from the firmanent of American and British cold war leaders. (Were brothers John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State for Eisenhower) and Allen Dulles (first CIA director) - really such creeps? ).

The Envoy is tightly plotted and well written. If you like your espionage books cut from the John Le Carre cloth - everyone compromised, no clear sense of who the "good guys" are, or whether such a thing even exists - then you'll enjoy The Envoy. ( )
  viking2917 | Aug 6, 2015 |
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As an H-bomb apocalypse hangs over London, Kit Fournier faces a crisis of the soul. The unveiling of his own dark personal secret proves more deadly than his coded despatches.

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