3/5 Mantle For his debut novel, Welsh author Chris Morgan Jones sticks to what he knows, drawing on 11 years of experience at one of the world’s top private intelligence companies. And as modern espionage novels go, this has all the key ingredients. Shadowy villain Malin, a corrupt Russian energy minister, is being investigated for money laundering; his good-at-heart lackey Richard Lock has spent his career as Malin’s frontman, trying to hide the shady business dealings behind a string of offshore companies. Lock has built up a sizeable fortune from the arrangement, even though his own life has disintegrated.
Yet journalist-turned-investigator Ben Webster is hot on the trail, determined to dig out the truth to avenge the death of his colleague years earlier. The novel cracks along at a fair pace, hopping from Russia to London via Berlin and Frankfurt. But while the plot itself proves intriguing, it’s difficult to feel affinity with the characters. Lock comes across as rather aloof – it’s hard to empathise with such an obscenely wealthy gent, especially one who hooks up with an impossibly attractive Russian ‘mistress’, showering her with cash to ease his loneliness.
Yet for its faults, An Agent of Deceit avoids the typical lazy thriller ending (usually involving a frenzied chase, a final dual between hero and villain and the inevitable death of the bad guy). The final few chapters offer a conclusion of sorts, albeit not the one we were expecting.