Tuesday, 12 March 2013

"Uncommon Enemy", Alan Judd

As an author, Alan Judd has sporadically accompanied me through a lot of my adult reading life. As a teenager "The Noonday Devil" served to keep my enthusiasm for a university education high, even if the reality was no more like that described by Judd than using Evelyn Waugh as a guide would have been.

At a similar time I encountered Charles Thoroughgood. His appearance in "A Breed of Heroes" provided a counterpoint to the swashbuckling military figures to be found in the thriller authors that had been my standard reading material to that point. Pronouncedly different, "A Breed of Heroes" was not an especially easy read in such a context, but over 20 years later remains memorable.

The Thoroughgood trilogy, written over such a span of time, encompassing the British Army in Northern Ireland, 1980s Cold War espionage, and now, the murky ambiguities of the war on terror, by nature has to be made up individual works that can stand on their own - reliance on distant memories of previous works is dangerous - the second volume, 2001's "Legacy" is after all 10 years ago, and unlike "A Breed of Heroes", was only read by me once. This does make the introduction to "Uncommon Enemy" a slightly difficult process, as memory scrabbles to see if there are threads to be picked up, and intertextuality challenges too - with linkages in particular to Adam Thorpe's "Flight" being felt.

Perseverance rewards; "Uncommon Enemy" is a rich and rewarding work. Book ending Thoroughgood's professional life, the story draws from his university days, the latter part of his spy's life in the 1990s and early 2000s, with the main narrative set in the contemporary period, where now retired, he is recalled to track down an asset, "Gladiator", with whom he shares an deep and extensive personal history. This tale of relationships subsumes what we initially assume to be the core premise - the attempt to use "Gladiator" to track down an Al Qaeda plot in the UK - remember - this is no traditional linear spy thriller.

Judd is easily locatable in the espionage literature universe alongside Charles Cumming and the obvious John Le Carre. Here he is perhaps most reminiscent of Le Carre's 1995 "Our Game", where a similar feel of tiredness and lost certainties can be found. Here too is an ambiguity in ending; there is closure to "Uncommon Enemy", there's a feeling that something akin to 'the right result' has been found, but there are still questions, still a suspicion that the whole story has not been told, and the book is very much better for it.

My old paperback copy of "Legacy" has now come off the bookshelf to be revisited - perhaps the most real endorsement of how enjoyable "Uncommon Enemy" is.

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