Awakening of Spies

By Brian Landers

RedDoor Press, paperback £8.99, pp304

Review by Elly Gibson

Awakening of Spies is the first book in ‘the Dylan series’, a set of four spy novels by Brian Landers, featuring unassuming hero Thomas Dylan.

We join Dylan in the British Intelligence Service in the 1970s. It’s a different world. We are in a bygone era of cypher pads and secret messages in newspapers. The men rule the roost, the women are there to look pretty, and homosexuality is viewed with as much suspicion and contempt as Communism. 

It’s clear from the off that Dylan is no James Bond. He’s a pen-pusher initially rejected by MI6, and his first couple of international trips are complete disasters. Dylan returns to London with his tail between his legs. Mission failure. Personal failure. Our dejected hero is left considering whether he belongs in this clandestine world of espionage.

So, it’s something of a surprise to him – and the reader – that when a submarine interrogator is stolen from the US navy, it is Dylan who is sent across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro to try and buy it back.

And it’s on the sultry streets of Brazil that the story really comes alive. Dylan is surrounded by informers and secret police, in a country governed by a brutal military dictatorship. Then throw in a number of underworld figures and spies from across the globe who appear to be trying to out-manoeuvre each other and recover the ‘Griffin interrogator’ themselves. Or are there other motives at play?

Dylan doesn’t have much luck to begin with. When an acquaintance from the CIA uses his hotel bathroom it ends in disaster, and a female moll he entices to help him achieve his mission meets a similarly desperate end.

But when his friend and ally Pedro from the embassy suddenly disappears, Dylan is left increasingly desperate for someone to trust. He turns to Julia French – another novice spy, sent to replace him. But is she what she seems and is she telling him the truth?

Dylan is in a race against time to separate all the different threads and conflicting motives he uncovers. He needs to join up the dots before it’s too late. It’s now clear he’s on his own and that MI6 and the CIA both have their own priorities – and he’s not one of them. This time if he fails in his mission he may well pay with his life.

I’ll be honest that this is a genre of literature I’m not very familiar with, and I found some of the more technical touches confusing at times. But it’s clear Landers knows his stuff.

Having given up on an academic career and deciding not to join the government spy agency, GCHQ, Landers helped set up a political intelligence unit in the City of London. He has apparently had Dylan in his mind for 30 years, and that’s why he’s a very credible – if unlikely –hero. You feel his commitment, frustration and desperation to get the job done, and you can’t help but cheer on this likeable underdog. And his relationship with French is intriguing and plausible.

Awakening of Spies is fast-paced and crammed full of action. It’s got a fabulous cast of crooked criminals and sinister spooks, lots of twisting sub-plots and enough red herrings to satisfy even the most demanding and discerning ‘spy thriller’ reader.

It kept me guessing until the last few pages – and it leaves you with a teasing final sentence that will make the more romantically-inclined reader keen to crack on with the next instalment.

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