Jones, Chris Morgan - 'An Agent of Deceit'
"Which regime?" she said at last.
Soaking up the Monte Carlo heat, Anglo-Dutch lawyer Richard Lock remembers how his career as a financial "front-man" started here in Monaco where he always feels comfortable. Now he heads up Faringdon Holdings for Konstantin Malin, minister and "eminence grise" of the Russian energy sector. Faringdon Holdings uses a multitude of offshore deals and trading transactions to hide Malin's money. The processes are so complex that Lock himself has forgotten precisely where the money comes from. His life in Moscow drains him. As he is planning an evening with his lover Oksana, his phone rings and Malin summons him to his villa near Cannes. Telling Oksana to go ahead and dine without him, Lock leaves for the villa where Malin's lawyers break the news that a lawsuit is being filed against Faringdon Holdings in New York. Greek magnate Aristotle Tourna is behind the suit but in all likelihood it is an attempt to damage Faringdon rather than a serious demand for compensatory money. Malin tells Lock to dig up everything he can on Tourna and to find out what Tourna knows about Faringdon.
Meanwhile, Ben Webster - ex-investigative journalist turned private intelligence agent working for Ikertu Consulting - has just returned to London from a meeting with Tourna, their new client. Webster has also worked out that Tourna is attacking Faringdon in order to unmask Malin as the man behind the money. Weighing up the dangers to themselves and Ikertu,Webster and his boss decide to go ahead and take on the job. Webster is still haunted by an incident involving the death of a dissident journalist in Kazakhstan years ago. He despises the corrupt Russian oligarchy and exposing one of them is something that he profoundly desires. They decide that Richard Lock is the weak point in the scheme. They must start by getting Lock away from Malin and out of Moscow in order to work on him.
Perhaps a feature that distinguishes spy fiction from crime fiction is that the former occupies a world that is outside the framework of law, policemen and criminal justice. We do not read spy fiction expecting forensic process, arrest, justice done and resolution. Deaths and disappearances, yes. But arrest and trials? No. So where does spy fiction meet crime fiction? Leaving aside the mystery and thrill of the chase - acts of murder, fraud, money laundering, extortion, blackmail, theft, assault and kidnap give plenty of room for crossover. All of which feature in Chris Morgan Jones' first novel AN AGENT OF DECEIT. Chris Morgan Jones' writing is already being compared to that of Le Carre's. But with AN AGENT OF DECEIT we are in a different time with different protagonists. There was a period in spy fiction when it was clear which side was which - loyalty, patriotism and betrayal, "us" versus "them", the agencies of government inspecting each other covertly. But in contemporary spy fiction acts of espionage are no longer the sole preserve of nations and government agencies. The commercial intelligence sector, if not the corporate, is coming to the fore and with that comes the concept of "he who can buy - gets the intelligence". Chris Morgan Jones spent over ten years working for one of the world's largest business intelligence agencies, crediting his observations there as the inspiration for this book. He became fascinated with the nature of the hollow men who stood at the head of the complex companies designed to hide the identity and wealth of their owners. In AN AGENT OF DECEIT Richard Lock is just such a man. Having lived the lifestyle of the rich and corrupt for so long, he has begun to forget who he is, his life in Moscow makes his skin look "grey". Perhaps it is the greyness of invisibility. But although the exploration of the role and character of the front-man is an interesting idea by its nature it is a difficult one to establish. I found it hard to become immersed at the start of the story. In the face of the necessity to establish the characters and their legal and business relationships both Lock and Webster seemed faceless; perhaps this is only to be expected given their own roles of front-man and agent. But after a while the book took hold. Cool and precise writing eventually won the day and Lock's predicament became more involving as his character emerged and the suspense built. His plight and Webster's growing sense of responsibility for him drove the pace towards its exciting conclusion. I might quibble with the predominantly silent and beautiful women that accompany the principal characters but - well, this is a world of seriously wealthy men. For readers who are prepared to trade instant high octane suspense and violence for a subtle and compelling thriller - AN AGENT OF DECEIT is one to enjoy. And the good news is that Chris Morgan Jones' second book featuring Ben Webster is due out in 2013.
Lynn Harvey, England