As a big fan of Oliver Harris’s Nick Belsey police thrillers, I came to this book loaded for bear, expecting a rollicking ride in the grips of a dark hero operating on the fringes of legality/lethality. I ended up getting scooped up and swallowed whole. Damn, Harris knows what he is talking about, and damn if he doesn’t stream that knowledge hard and fast through a sniper’s ricocheting trickshot of a plot.
We begin with MI6 agent Eliot Kane, man of many identities and worlds, getting pulled from a mission and furloughed in London for reasons unknown – in the midst of which he receives a mysterious video file showing some CGI-rendered deep fake of himself appearing in a place he’s never been and meeting someone he’s never before seen – sent by his spy ex-girlfriend who’s now gone missing.
Damn. Kane slips his MI6 handlers, activates protocols to go dark for a while, and absconds to Kazakhstan – where his ex-gf was last seen and where the footage came from. Thus begins the Belsey-esque pinballing of Kane between his multiple cover identities past, present and future, between private and government intelligence agencies, state actors, environmental groups and more, following the trail of his deep-fake mock-up and his ex-gf, who of course was mixed up in something bigger and scarier than anyone expected.
I know for a fact that Harris went to Kazakhstan and drank deep from the local experiential trough – the details he parses out throughout this story are utterly convincing, and when combined with the level of tradecraft on display I’m starting to think Harris the author is actually a deepfake of himself, covering for a spy identity unveiling his cryptic, fast-moving world for us norms to see.
The storyline races at a hectic pace as Kane pursues his off-book investigations throughout the Kazakh capital Astana, all the while trying to keep MI6 off his back and unpuzzle the threat his own deepfake image poses to him, to his ex-gf, and who knows, maybe the world? The writing is spare when it needs to be, full-bodied when we’re ready for more, and deeply in command of the facts.
If you like Belsey this is definitely for you. If you like Fleming, Le Carre and Rankin this is for you – but come loaded with heavy-gauge munitions and be ready to dance – you’re in for a helluva ride.