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Fesperman, Dan - 'The Double Game'
Hardback: 368 pages (Dec. 2012) Publisher: Atlantic Books ISBN: 0857893378

"Genre fiction," she always sneered. "Spies and secrets, lies and betrayal, blah blah blah."
"You mean like life?" I'd counter, little knowing we were touching on the dynamics of our coming failure.

1984: Journalist Bill Cage is granted an interview with his hero, renowned spy novelist and ex-CIA agent, Edward Lemaster. The son of an American diplomat, Cage grew up in the same European Cold War cities that Lemaster used for the settings of his novels. In turn Lemaster's novels were Bill's introduction to a lifelong love of spy fiction. After a successful interview Bill is invited to dinner with the Great Man and is surprised to hear him refer to Bill's father as an old friend. The expansive atmosphere, fuelled by cocktails and wine, leads Lemaster to share his feelings on once having contemplated turning double agent. Realising that Lemaster is talking to him as the son of an old friend rather than as a journalist, Bill decides not to publish Lemaster's revelations. But his editor has other ideas. The resulting article causes a sensation and Lemaster breaks off all communication with Bill.
2010: Bill Cage is now an increasingly disillusioned PR hack who returns home one evening to find a mysterious coded letter in the mail slot. What is more, the envelope comes from his own supply of Austrian stationery and the contained note has been typed on his old typewriter. The message itself is a suggestion that he can find out more about Lemaster's spy career by following a set of instructions from Lemaster's own book "The Double Game". Bill can't resist and his search leads him back to the bookshops, cafés and alleyways of the European cities of his youth. A trail of packaged clues, dead drops, cyphers, code names and pages from spy novels, it brings him closer to his father and reunites him with Litzi, his first girlfriend. Then people start to die and the beloved fiction becomes reality.

Q: When is a spy novel also a history of the genre?
A: When it's THE DOUBLE GAME by Dan Fesperman.

Dan Fesperman is an experienced journalist and award-winning thriller writer whose books have been inspired by his journalist assignments. THE DOUBLE GAME, his eighth book, owes part of its inspiration to his research into the Cold War-era CIA for a TV project. As the title suggests, THE DOUBLE GAME is a book filled with smoke, mirrors, and paranoia - with its narrator, Bill Cage, investigating Lemaster's spy career under instruction from a mysterious "handler" and with a view to uncovering whether Lemaster was indeed a double agent working for both America and Russia. It is also a story of echoes and reflections on another level as Cage is tracing the past through the cities of his own youth: Vienna, Prague and Budapest. And last but not least THE DOUBLE GAME is a book steeped in the world of classic espionage novels as Cage's "handler" leaves clues in the form of pages and quotes from the books themselves. Fesperman has said that as a reader he looks for a book "that will take the reader into a world that you otherwise would never be able to visit", which is precisely where he succeeds in taking us. I thoroughly enjoyed THE DOUBLE GAME and it made me want to read more Fesperman. I can tell you that I now know a lot more about spy fiction than I did; a feat which Fesperman has managed in a superb way without a hint of patronising didactics. However, for espionage aficionados, Cage as "author-narrator" does supply your very own bibliography for further reading. This is a smooth treat of a book and one you can savour.

Lynn Harvey, England
February 2013

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 31/01/2013 16:57