THE OLD ENEMY by Henry Porter (Quercus, April 2021)
It seems that Henry Porter’s The Old Enemy has been a long time coming. The third in his series about former MI6 agent Paul Samson, The Old Enemy was originally scheduled to be published in September 2020, but has only just made its way into print. The good news is that the wait has been well worthwhile.
The Old Enemy is worthy successor to the terrific earlier Samson books, Firefly and White Hot Silence, and in many ways is also a moving conclusion to Porter’s earlier series of books about legendary MI6 agent Robert Harland.
The Old Enemy opens with the murder of Harland, who also featured in White Hot Silence, on a remote stretch of the Baltic coastline. Meanwhile billionaire philanthropist Denis Hisami is poisoned with a chemical nerve agent as he is preparing to give evidence at an US Congress hearing on his supposed links to militant Kurdish factions. Unknowingly linking the two attacks is Ex-MI6 agent Paul Samson who is also assaulted at the same time on a London street while watching over a young woman connected to a controversial Non Government Organisation. While Hisami lies in a coma in a hospital bed, Samson sets out to find out why the three of them were targeted for death. It soon becomes very clear that Hisami and Harland were conducting a dangerous operation against an old and powerful enemy. Joining forces with Hisami’s wife, and the love of Samson’s life, Anastasia, Samson has to battle against tremendous odds to outwit an enveloping conspiracy that reaches to the top of the British and American governments.
This is a compelling spy story that starts at a brisk pace and quickly catches the reader up in its thrall. The plot is cleverly constructed and Porter deploys some compelling action set-pieces to keep the story rushing along. By alternating the viewpoint between Samson and Anastasia, and occasionally some minor characters, Porter maintains a tight grip on the reader’s attention as the various strands of the plot unfold and the secrets at the core of the story are unveiled. As Samson tries to unravel the reasons behind the killings, Anastasia battles with the high level American politicians and corrupt business people who want Hasami’s secrets to remain buried.
The story moves smoothly and violently across Europe before coming to a tense conclusion in Washington. The characters are well-developed and interesting, and the locations are simply, but convincing, sketched. There is also enough convincing modern spy craft to satisfy even the most demanding armchair spook and there are some depressing insights into the British and American political systems. Recent events in America add some currency to the story and Porter is very good at portraying the close links between the twin worlds of Intelligence gathering and politics. There is also plenty of poignancy in The Old Enemy and quite a few shocks and surprises.
The ending is probably is a little drawn out, and lacks the explosiveness of the conclusions to Firefly and White Hot Silence, but is still quite effective and gripping in its way. Long term fans of Porter’s spy novels will also enjoy the return of several characters from his earlier books and I liked the wrapping up of various past storylines.
The complaints are few. Some elements stretch credibility, but not to breaking point, and I thought that some trimming would have made it a tighter and more exciting read. There is also a sense of repetition at times, but overall I really enjoyed it. In all, The Old Enemy is an outstanding spy novel.
2021 has already brought us one great spy novel in the form of Mick Herron’s Slough House and I think that The Old Enemy is not far behind it. Four and a half stars out of five
The Old Enemy is released in Australia and the United Kingdom on 15 April 2021. Thanks to the Canberra Weekly and Hachette Australia for an advanced copy of the book.