Desert Isle Keeper
To say I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Rogue Spy is an understatement of immense proportions. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of the books in Ms. Bourne’s Spymaster series, and given the revelations about Pax made in The Black Hawk I’ve been on the edge of my seat waiting for his story. Naturally, my expectations were very high – and I’m delighted to be able to say that Ms. Bourne does not disappoint, because this is a highly satisfying, multi-layered read that sucked me in and kept me enthralled from first to last.
Thomas Paxton – Pax – has appeared in other books in this series, a trusted member of the British Intelligence Service and, moreover, one of a small group of friends and colleagues within the service who have worked together for a number of years and who have grown to trust each other implicitly.
But in The Black Hawk, everything we knew – or thought we knew – about Pax was blown out of the water when it was revealed that he was a Caché, one of a group of children abandoned and orphaned during the Revolution who were taken in by the Police Secrète. These children were trained as spies and assassins, and were later presented to noble and/or strategic English families as missing family members, their own personalities subsumed beneath the identities they assumed.
Rogue Spy picks up Pax’s story as he returns to the Intelligence Service’s Headquarters in Meek Street bearing a signed confession as to the truth of his identity and a list of the ways in which he has betrayed the Service. He hates himself for what he has done, for deceiving his friends and colleagues, and his sense of honour will allow him to do so no longer. He arrives grimly determined to tell all, fully expecting to be condemned and sentenced to death for treason.
Like Pax, the heroine of this story, Camille Leyland, is also a Caché. A member of the Italian Boldoni family by birth, she has assumed the identity of the niece of the two Leyland sisters, who are code makers and breakers for British Intelligence. Cami is quite content living a quiet existence in the country with her “aunts” until she receives a letter telling her that the real Camille is still alive and demanding that she attends a meeting in London at which she must hand over the key to the most recent and complex code. If she refuses, then retribution will be enacted upon the young woman and upon her aunts as well.
Cami has no alternative but to follow the instructions she has been given. But her past life and training as a spy have given her the ability to do more than simply do as she’s told without making a few contingency plans of her own, so it’s with more than a few sharp metal objects up her sleeve that she departs for London.
Ms. Bourne’s storytelling is masterful, her research impeccable and her plot is skillfully wrought – complex, but not overly so, and most importantly, it makes sense – by which I mean it’s tightly honed and the reader never has the feeling that something has been included simply for effect or to force the story in a certain direction. These are people playing a deadly game without fast cars, mobile phones or the latest gadgetry, their only defence being their intelligence, quickness of wit, and skill at what they do. The sense of peril that is generated by the presence and actions of the villain of the piece is genuine – I’ve said before that the reader really does get the impression that these characters live their lives on a very knife-edge in which the smallest of wrong moves could spell disaster.
The story flows beautifully as we move around the seedier parts of London in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse as Cami tries to stay one step ahead of Pax and his colleagues while evading capture – or worse – at the hands of her mysterious blackmailer.
Pax and Cami’s shared history is one of violence, cruelty and deprivation, and it’s clear that they were very close during their years spent being trained and indoctrinated by the French. The bond between them has never really broken despite their years apart, and the strength of that connection just leaps off the page, their move from friends to lovers being completely plausible given the fact that we’re shown over and over that here are two people who know each other almost inside-out.
The characterisation is excellent all round. Pax is a wonderfully complex hero; a deadly assassin with the soul of an artist, truly honourable and deeply troubled by his past. He’s quiet and unostentatious, a man who can blend into the background and just disappear by virtue of his very ordinariness. Cami is resourceful, generous of spirit and clever, and she and Pax make a very well-matched couple.
There is a colourful cast of supporting characters in the form of Cami’s large brood of London-based Italian relatives, and I especially enjoyed going back to meet the young, cocky Adrian Hawker again. His relationship with Pax is brilliantly depicted, their often acerbic dialogue masking a deep respect which underpins one of the most strongly-written male friendships I’ve read. Add the hulking, imperturbable William Doyle to the mix, and you’ve got a formidable team, each of whom who anticipates the other’s moves and thoughts, and each of whom would give their lives for the others.
If you’ve enjoyed other books in this series, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. And if you haven’t read any of them, while there’s enough information in this for it to work perfectly well as a standalone, I think there’s much to be gained from reading (at the very least) The Black Hawk beforehand, although it’s not absolutely necessary.
I can say with complete honesty that Rogue Spy is one of the best books I’ve read this year. There’s plenty of fast-paced action, a tender romance, lots of humour, and a shocking denouement which had me on the edge of my seat. It’s intelligently and beautifully written – and now I think I need to go and read the entire series all over again. Brava! Ms. Bourne.