The Frenchman, Jack Beaumont
A spy thriller that's slightly different from the run of the mill "one man to save the world", there is much to like about THE FRENCHMAN.
For a start this is obviously a book written by an author who knows the reality of life as an intelligence service agent all too well. The author name "Jack Beaumont" is allegedly a pseudonym for a former French special operator and you can believe that. The level of authority that shows in the details of the life of an agent, the hyper-vigilance, the routines for getting into and out of missions, and the clash when returning to family life is amazing. All of which built into a story that fizzes along with speed and a constant ramping up of tension that makes this a most informative, and engaging thriller.
At the heart of the story are the threats that France faces from terrorist attacks and external enemies and the DGSE (known as "The Company"), France's foreign intelligence service, who are supposed to stop those attempts at the earliest possible stage. Alec de Payns is a top operative in the top-secret Y Division of The Company, responsible for the most dangerous international undertakings, often manipulating targets into giving themselves, and their plots away. During an operation in Sicily, when trying to infiltrate a dangerous terrorist group, the small cell de Payns is a part of is blown, forcing him to flee from a very close call, using all his spycraft to get away undetected, and return to his daily life in Paris, all the while convinced they were betrayed by a fellow agent and worried sick about how close danger is lurking to his family because of that.
Despite the threat of a possible traitor in their midst, de Payn's small cell is then sent on an urgent mission in Pakistan, investigating a believed biological weapons facility, rumoured to be producing a bacterial weapon, intended for release in France. The preparation for this mission, and the ruse of a film crew scouting locations, is rapidly, but thoroughly put together (and the methods for doing this are particularly fascinating), but once again, the mission is compromised and uncovering the threat within becomes increasingly urgent, and complicated.
The combination of action, undercover missions, and external threats with a real-life knowledge of the way that cells are developed, supported, and infiltrated into and out of situations is another fascinating aspect of THE FRENCHMAN. The tension, the sense of threat and a connection with Alec de Payns is done with the reader allowed to get a real sense for how exhausting and vulnerable the life of an undercover operative with a family must be. There's a really clever balance of a standard spy thriller, spycraft, and personal aspects here that's illuminating, entertaining, and elegantly constructed. The reader is taken on a rollercoaster of a ride, whilst also gaining a deep understanding of the difficulties that intelligence agencies experience in a world where hatred is deep and the means to inflict mass carnage soberingly straight forward to obtain.
Whilst THE FRENCHMAN is obviously going to work really well for readers who like spy thriller novels, there's a lot more here for those that are more equivocal about the standard offering. This is seat of the pants thriller fodder, high octane action, almost fun and a bit rollicky in places, delivered with a lot of thought and a beating heart.
A gripping debut thriller based on the real-life experiences of a former French intelligence operative.
Alec de Payns is an operative in the secretive Y Division of the DGSE, France's famed foreign intelligence service. He's the agent at the sharp end of clandestine missions, responsible for eliminating terror threats and disrupting illegal nuclear and biological weapons programs. The element the missions have in common is danger - danger to de Payns, to his team and to those who stand in his way. But increasingly it's not just the enemies of France that are being damaged by de Payns' actions. His marriage is under strain, and at the back of his mind lurks the fear that haunts every operative with a family - what if they come after my children?
When a routine mission in Palermo to disrupt a terrorist organisation goes fatally wrong, Alec is forced to confront the possibility that they may have been betrayed by a fellow operative. And now he's been tasked to investigate a secretive biological weapons facility in Pakistan. Alec must find out how they're producing a weaponised bacteria capable of killing millions, and what they plan to do with it. But with a traitor in the ranks, it's not just Alec in the firing line. Soon he'll be forced to confront his worst fear - and the potential destruction of Paris itself.
This is fiction, but based on the experiences of a real French spy. The knowledge and tradecraft that lie behind Jack Beaumont's taut plotting and brilliant eye for detail enliven every page, making The Frenchman all the more plausible, and all the more frightening.