Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Last Defector: Tony Cape

I read Tony Cape's first book featuring Derek Smailes, The Cambridge Theorum,  almost exactly eight years ago, right before I started blogging. I liked it a lot and I was grateful that Felony and Mayhem had published a new edition of that book.

In the first book, Derek Smailes is a detective sergeant in Cambridge. He investigates the suicide of a student at the university who was researching the possibility of a fifth Cambridge spy. That book begins as a police procedural and morphs into spy fiction. Set in the 1980s, it was first published in 1989.

In the follow-up to that first novel, Derek has been offered a position in MI-5, and has decided to accept it because he will be sent to New York for his first assignment. He has always had an interest in the US and its culture and he is delighted to be able to experience it directly. He has a junior position as a security officer at the British Mission to the UN. The story is set when the Cold War is coming to an end and disarmament talks are going on (late 1980s).

Based on a recording recovered from a listening device, Derek's superiors plan to try to convince a Soviet citizen also working at the UN to defect and provide information on disarmament plans in Russia. They decide to use Derek as the contact point for the mission, and allow him to plan the approach. The setup of the scheme to soften up the Russian for defection is complex and intriguing. A secondary plot in The Last Defector takes place in the Soviet Union, and follows a conspiracy to take over the government due to dissatisfaction with the current leader.

Initially the planned defection goes well, but as things start to fall apart, Derek ends up suspecting just about everyone he is working with of treachery, even the woman he wants to marry. He is a more realistic protagonist than some I have encountered in spy fiction. He is eager to take on a challenging assignment that could give his career a quick shot in the arm, but has doubts about his abilities and whether he and his group are doing the right thing.

I found this second book in the Derek Smailes series to be a worthy successor to the first. The plot was complex but not confusing. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, but that wasn't a problem either. The people he works with are well developed characters, with different personalities, but the officials back in Russia are more stereotypical. However, that seems to be true in many spy books I have read.

As with the first book, it was the development of the main character, Derek, and his new relationships in his job and with his ex-wife and daughter back in England, that made this book especially enjoyable to read. I like it when espionage stories explore the characters personal lives and motives, and I was happy that I made the effort to find a copy of the second book in this series.

This biographical information is available at Felony and Mayhem:
Tony Cape was born in Wales and grew up in Yorkshire before attending Cambridge University. After working as a journalist in Northern Ireland and England he moved to the United States in 1977 to join the Buddhist community of Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. In the 1990s, he published a series of spy novels featuring Derek Smailes, a former police detective turned counterintelligence officer. The first of these, The Cambridge Theorem, became a bestseller in Britain and Italy, and was re-released by Felony and Mayhem Press in 2006.
See my review of The Cambridge Theorem.


Publisher:  Doubleday, 1991.
Length:      390 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Derek Smailes, #2
Setting:      New York City, US; UK
Genre:       Spy fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy in 2013.


Cath said...

Oddly, I've never developed a taste for spy fiction and I don't know why. Trouble following it I think, all that double agent stuff... I get confused! My husband used to read hardly anything else but that, apart from sci-fi, but has branched out quite a lot now. Spy-fiction is definitely 'my' blind spot.

Kay said...

I love hearing about 'new to me' authors here, Tracy. And this is one I've not been aware of. Spy fiction - think I used to read a lot of more of it way back - probably closer to when this one was published. It's interesting how certain themes in mysteries come and go.

Margot Kinberg said...

For me, Tracy, the best sort of spy fiction features strong characters. The plots are just a lot more interesting if I'm invested in the characters, and if they're believable. Otherwise, to be honest, some spy fiction stretches my credibility a little too far. I'm glad to hear this series features a strong, believable character. And I'm very glad publishers like F&M are bringing some of these less-well-known authors.

TracyK said...

Cath, I never have figured out why I like spy fiction so much. Sometimes it is very confusing, sometimes the books are slow. My favorites I think are the ones that involve history also, like World War II, but then that doesn't apply to Len Deighton who is one of my favorite authors of spy fiction.

Kay, This author's books are relatively unknown and I was just lucky to find the first book from Felony and Mayhem.

Margot, You are right about the need for strong characters in spy fiction. Although under 400 pages, this book was still a bit long for me. Of course, Le Carre's books are often very very long.

Rick Robinson said...

I'm afraid this one would be a bit of a slog for me, so I won't approach it. I'm not a fan of spy fiction, with the exception of the Bond books, though I have tried several others, finishing none except The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I liked that one, but not enough to continue the adventures of Smiley. So, no to this one.

TracyK said...

Spy fiction is definitely not for everyone, Rick. You have reminded me I have to get back to reading the Bond books. I think the last one I read was Thunderball. I may skip The Spy Who Loved Me and read On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Clothes in Books said...

Tracy, we had such parallel paths in our reading life! Just like you, I discovered Cambridge Theorem and Felony and Mayhem in pre-blogging days, and really enjoyed it. I don't know why I didn't move on to this one, but I will try to find it. I remember buying up loads of Felony and Mayhem titles, such a delight.

TracyK said...

I agree, Moira, there are some wonderful series I never would have discovered without Felony and Mayhem and others that I really appreciate them reprinting, so that others can enjoy them.

col2910 said...

Tracy, I've not heard of this author before and I quite like the sound of this and the earlier one. I'll hold fire for now. I ought to read some more espionage books this year.

col2910 said...

Tracy, I've not heard of this author before and I quite like the sound of this and the earlier one. I'll hold fire for now. I ought to read some more espionage books this year.

TracyK said...

Col, I plan to read more espionage books this year. I have lots of Le Carre, lots of Deighton, and a few books here and there from other authors. Oh I forgot, lots of Alan Furst, but he is not quite as fun. I have read a couple of books by Charles Cumming in the last couple of years, and liked those a lot.

Mathew Paust said...

My taste for spy fiction has paled in the nutty atmosphere of today's international melodrama, Tracy. Hard to imagine fiction anymore being able to trump the everyday, if you will. For now I shall stick to reading your interesting reviews, and wait for saner days ahead. ;)

TracyK said...

That is interesting, Matt. I stay away from the news, although of course there is no way to hide from it all. Right now I am reading a historical spy fiction book by Alan Furst, The World at Night, set during World War II, in France.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Author Tony Cape is new to me as well, Tracy. I will keep his books in mind, especially since I enjoy reading spy fiction.

TracyK said...

Not so easy to find books by this author, Prashant, but you never know.