Fans of thrillers have lost major author icons Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy. If they are looking for someone who might live up to these legends, try Matthew Dunn. He writes about espionage and takes the reader on an intense journey with every storyline. His latest, Dark Spies, is a riveting and gripping novel whose main character, Will Cochrane, is a lot like Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, each willing to throw personal safety aside to protect their country.
Of this strong Spymaster series, Dark Spies is probably Dunn’s best. The storyline and characters are so very well developed. The plot begins with Will acting as a bodyguard for a deep cover CIA agent, Ellie Hallowes, as she attempts to extract information from a Russian asset. Unfortunately, this mission goes south when assassins led by Russian spymaster, Antaeus, attempt to execute the US operative. Will does not understand why Langley orders him to stand down, and instead takes matters into his own hands to save Ellie. Attempting to find the truth about the inexplicable orders, Hallowes returns to the US to seek out who is behind this scheme while Will, now a marked man and on the run, must outmaneuver deadly Russian assassins, an elite FBI team, and powerful self serving intelligence officials, one who outted him.
The Ellie Hallowes character is someone readers root for. She is the female equivalent of Will Cochrane. Both are heroic, personable, tough, compassionate, kind, thoughtful, and lonely. She is best described as Will’s kindred spirit for her similar experiences, background, and mindset. The mission is everything to them and if they no longer were able to be spies they would drift endlessly emotionally and physically. The other character introduced in this book is FBI Special Agent Marsha Gage. She is intelligent, sharp, and is no nonsense while managing the many egos of the task force. Dunn noted, “Ellie and Marsha are so very different. Ellie is drawn into herself. If I stuck both in a room of a hundred people, Ellie would want to get out as quickly as possible because she lives in the shadows. On the other hand, Marsha would be very comfortable in that setting.”
The author has spent five years as a deep undercover agent for MI6 so he is able to use his experiences to write realistic stories. As he explains in the book, he quickly understood that the major attributes of an operative are instinct and imagination. Dunn commented directly to blackfive.net, “This is something that cannot really be trained, the ability to use your ‘antenna eyes.’ Deep cover agents rely on finding out people’s characteristics. I want to show in this book how operatives are addicted to finding the truth, stealing secrets is in their blood. They find it difficult to break this habit. People also need to understand that deep cover officers put themselves in severe danger, operating on a limb. There is no diplomatic cover and immunity. Spies typically operate in extremely hostile locations. If caught, at best they’ll get jail time and at worst they will be executed. It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.”
The plot hammers the point home that the intelligence community needs to consider multiple fronts. The book’s plot exemplifies how countries such as Russia could manipulate circumstances to their advantage. It also shows the need for HUMINT, to gain information through interpersonal contact. In this case Russia tried to manipulate Great Britain and the US to react to a perceived situation of a terrorist meeting that would have had a catastrophic result, had it not been for Ellie’s due diligence. It became evident that the dangers lie with major rogue states that can destabilize the world order.
Dark Spies conjures up memories of Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, including the collaboration of agencies and the movement through multiple countries and continents. The characters search for the truth provides an exciting read that is solidly grounded in the real world.