The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

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The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A spy thriller fan's spy thriller that also caters for those not as obsessed this is a story worthy of the old-time espionage writers who inspired it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: December 2012
Publisher: Atlantic Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857893376

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American Bill Cage is a middle-aged PR man who worships at the shrine of spy novels. It's a love he's inherited from widowed diplomat father. (Bill's mother having died in an accident when he was very young.) He fondly remembers his childhood as he travelled from posting to posting with his dad and their vast spy fiction library.

One day his mundane middle years are torn apart when he's sent an enticing note, typed on his own typewriter; the one he keeps locked away in his attic. It refers back to the end of his previous, short-lived journalistic career and a literary hero's throwaway hint that could be an admission that he was a cold war double agent. Bill's curiosity tips him over the edge into a world in which no one is and safety becomes a warm, distant memory. The spy fiction reader becomes a spy and there's no guarantee he'll live to see how this particular story ends.

This is ex-journalist Dan Fesperman's eighth novel but he doesn't just rattle them off. Three of them, to date, are prestigious award winners (Lie in the Dark, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows and The Prisoner of Guantanamo) and The Warlord's Son was shortlisted for the 2004 Steel Dagger. I can also guess that he reads a fair bit of spy fiction. How? It's the only way he could have written such an intricately conjoined plot sitting upon a patchwork of well-chosen thriller excerpts.

The idea came from an interview with John le Carre that Fesperman read a few years ago in which Le Carre suggested that the thought of being a double agent intrigued him whilst he was working in British Intelligence. With an author's 'what-if' imagination, Dan extrapolated and the rest is... a book.

The fictional ex-journalist, Bill Cage is sent form pillar to post, warned off/encouraged by strategically placed sections cut from the novels of such authors as Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and Mr Le Carre himself. However Dan Fesperman is no plagiarist. On these clippings nestles the story of an ordinary man who just wants to find answers, only to discover he's falling into an almost Alice-in-Wonderland world of danger with no chance of going back.

The hero is a spy designed for we readers; he's ordinary, just like us. His childhood may have been different but he's now the middle-aged office-bound man that we see on a daily basis. However, Mr F has been very clever in the characterisation. If Cage was totally us-ordinary he wouldn't survive the first hundred pages so he's been equipped with minor bolt-ons, like having been on a defensive driving course. This means that he'll live feasibly for as long as the author wants him to whilst we're still able to engage with the accidental spy's paranoia.

The style is a cross between the cerebral John le Carre (without the need to be overly intelligent) and the action-driven Daniel Silva. As we travel with Cage through modern day Vienna, Prague and Budapest (all Cold War literary favourites) our curiosity is piqued as Cage's adventure is turned from a literary treasure hunt to a mire of deepening suspense with hooks well enough spaced to forget about that early night we'd promised ourself. (Talking of early nights, this isn’t a book for the youngsters. Although there isn't much gore as Cage sees the bodies rather than witnesses the murders, there is some ripe language and sex scenes.)

If I'm picky, there's a convenient escape and a couple of clichés between the covers but, rather than coming over as sloppiness, it feels as though it's homage to those fore-authors who set out the genre rules in the past. In a way that says it all: this isn't just an excellent post-war spy thriller but a monument to the past writers who paved the way and I don't think they'd mind a bit. In fact, I think they'd be rather honoured.

A special thank you to Atlantic Books for sending us a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this, we recommend one of the novels that inspired the author: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre.

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Buy The Double Game by Dan Fesperman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Double Game by Dan Fesperman at


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