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Review: 'Flint' a boldly struck spy thriller
(CNN) -- The spy thriller is a modern invention. While there are tales of espionage and intrigue from earlier, more romantic times, the current archetype of the secret agent was forged from an amalgam of geopolitics and technology after World War Two. The Cold War, with its frighteningly high stakes, was a fitting milieu for the covert operative. Rapid advances in weaponry and transportation made the spy supremely mobile and supremely lethal.
Today, technology is even more advanced, but there's no clearly defined "us versus them" standoff dominating the world stage. As a result, authors of espionage novels are struggling to develop a new archetype -- the post-modern spy thriller.
British journalist Paul Eddy enters the fray with his first novel, "Flint." His experiences as an investigative reporter have given him a vantage point from which to view the development of a new "us versus them" confrontation. It's not driven by the political divisions of the Cold War. It's driven by baser instincts, principally greed.
Eddy's battleground is the landscape of international crime. The enemy is that cadre of shady operators who fuel criminal enterprises with a steady supply of laundered money. The protagonist is not a globetrotting secret agent. She's a cop.
Bait in a trap
Grace Flint is an undercover policewoman. She started her career as bait in a trap set to capture a serial rapist. Since then, she has been used as a lure in several high-stakes sting operations aimed at choking off the flow of laundered cash to criminal organizations.
"She liked weaving her complex webs of deceit," Eddy writes, "and she was good at it. She liked being on the edge, and the heady feeling of euphoria when the risk of her own exposure was over. Above all, she like watching their eyes as it first occurred to them that she was not, as they had thought, their victim or their customer or their accomplice, but the instrument of their ruin."
Her love of the game almost gets Flint killed. A sting operation goes sour and she is beaten within an inch of her life. The target of the investigation escapes, and Flint enters a long period of convalescence. She emerges with her face and body surgically reconstructed, but her confidence still on life support. Before she knows it, she's dragged into another operation -- this time in Miami. Again, her life is in danger. And she realizes she's not enjoying it.
What she learns in Miami puts Flint once again on the trail of the man responsible for her close call with death. With typically British determination, she sets off to find him. After she disappears, her superiors on both sides of the Atlantic set out to find her.
A facade of weaknesses
While the character of Grace Flint is central to the action of the book, she is not its dominant figure. Instead, a lawyer named Harry Cohen, a former legal counsel to British Intelligence, is the key to the narrative. He's in charge of finding Flint, or, failing that, finding out what she knows. Cohen is not a terribly forceful character. The FBI and MI5 officials he must work with almost overwhelm his presence.
Cohen is a literary descendant of the characters that have populated post-war British spy fiction. Eddy has learned from the likes of John le Carre and Len Deighton how to mask a character's strengths behind a facade of weaknesses. Like his literary antecedents, Eddy keeps the true nature of his story tightly under wraps, letting only small pieces of it surface when needed to propel the narrative. While he's not yet in their league, he is definitely playing the same game as le Carre and Deighton, and playing it pretty well.
"Flint," like its protagonist, is convoluted, complex and compelling. Eddy pays as much attention to the internal monologues of his large cast of characters as he does to their external actions and relationships. The novel is violent, but not gratuitously so. The resolution of the central conflict is far from clear cut, as is so often the case in real life. "Flint" may not be the book that redefines the spy thriller genre for these post-modern times, but it is one the genre can learn from.
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