Sunday, August 31, 2008

37. Spy Ship by Tom Keene with Brian Haynes

Spy Ship pictureI picked this book up from the same street vendor in Toronto who sold me Scapa Ferry and I really hemmed and hawed over it. On the one hand, the cover looked cool, just from the period I like (the height of Desmond Bagley's popularity). On the other, it takes place in the cold war and seemed to have a lot of military and espionage themes, which I am not so interested in (I don't mind the period, but I like the focus to be on adventure). Also, I was worried the whole thing would take place aboard some military ship. After reading it, I'm glad to say I made the right choice. Yes, the story is definitely in the context of the cold war, but the ship is sunk right at the beginning (it is the catalyst that starts the story) and the bulk of the narrative is about a plucky young reporter (whose father died on the ship) trying to find out what happened.

The story is based on the intelligence war that took place in the North Sea between the Russians and the west. Along the frontier off the shores of Norway Russian subs and American and British ships would play games of cat and mouse, each trying to read data off the other. The set-up for spy ship is that the British were secretly putting scanning equipment aboard long-range commercial fishing vessels, unbeknownst to even most of the crew, thus putting them in danger. When one of them gets blown up, the government has to cover it up.

There's lots of cool stuff in this book. The aristocrats who run the shadier parts of the government and the darker, amoral men who run the even shadier parts under them are the badguys. There is a really scary ex-military guy who has a carte blanche to clean up problems. The fishermen and their world is portrayed vividly and with compassion and there are some great fight scenes. The story itself had some very good twists and the final reveal of what actually happened surprised me. All in all, a pretty good read.

I imagine this was the kind of thriller that was read by businessman on the train on their way to the city when it first came out, but has since faded into obscurity. There even was a British mini-series made of it, which might be worth checking out if it ever shows up again (that's the kind of shit that we should be able to find on late night tv, but no).


Buzby said...

I love the cover and the North Sea espionage sounds cool.

Jason L said...

Usually you can be pretty sure you are safe with a penguin from that era. What year is this from?