Alan Judd’s spy novels occupy a class of their own in the murky world of espionage fiction, partly because they blend two elements of the genre that are rarely seen together. First, they are grounded in a wholly plausible version of the intelligence community, where decisions evolve in Whitehall committee rooms and the wiles of politicians and bureaucrats are just as important as the machinations of moles. Secondly, their central characters often recall an older tradition of gentlemen patriots that goes back to John Buchan’s Richard Hannay. The combination shouldn’t work but in Judd’s novels it does.
These elements meet in the character of Charles Thoroughgood, who has already appeared in three earlier books, first as a soldier and later as an MI6 officer. He knows how to nudge a committee into doing what he wants and how to bargain his way towards the truth. But he’s also a cultured man who guards most of his hinterland, even from the reader. Typically, he drives a Bristol 410 and, when the going gets rough in his most recent outing, chooses his father’s Winchester 30-30 from his small arsenal of sporting guns.
Inside Enemy takes up shortly after the end of the previous novel, Uncommon Enemy. Charles has been brought back from retirement and appointed as C, the head of MI6. The service is in a bad way, not least because the previous C was a traitor. MI6’s security routines have become a shambles and, to the horror of all concerned, its head office has been moved to Croydon.
Matters rapidly go from bad to worse with a series of apparently unrelated incidents. A former KGB officer is murdered in Sussex. A nuclear submarine goes missing. A traitor escapes from prison. Hackers are mounting a series of brief but destabilising raids on Britain’s ‘Critical National Infrastructure’, causing governments departments to go off-line and banks to withhold payments. The indications are that the hackers are gaining access to these closely guarded networks via a computer at MI6.
On the surface, nothing connects these with Charles’s wife, Sarah, or with an MP who resembles a chess-playing Mr Toad. But the MP’s glamorous secretary is keen to introduce a Russian oligarch friend to Sarah, and his neighbours included the former KGB officer.
This is undoubtedly Judd’s best spy novel yet — both as a thriller and in terms of its plot construction. The narrative starts with a contract killing but then builds with deceptive calm via the deliberations of mandarins and lengthy, but relevant flashbacks to a dramatic conclusion. Whatever the crisis he faces, Charles remains unflappable, his steely integrity intact. When in doubt pack the Winchester 30-30.
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