Published by Frontlist on April 30, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers
Buy via Bookshop.org
Add To Goodreads
Disgraced British spy August Drummond is on his way to Istanbul when he sees a passenger throw away directions to a cemetery just moments before being arrested. August can’t resist the temptation to go in his place. But when he comes face to face with a terrifying figure from Islamic State, he realizes he’s about to confront the greatest challenge of his career…Things are looking bad for disgraced spy August Drummond. In emotional free fall after the death of his wife, fired for a series of unprecedented security breaches… and now his neighbor on the flight to Istanbul won’t stop talking. The only thing keeping him sane is the hunch that there’s something not quite right about the nervous young man several rows ahead – a hunch that is confirmed when August watches him throw away directions to an old European cemetery seconds before being detained by Turkish police. A reckless August decides to go to the cemetery, where he meets a mysterious figure from the dark heart of the Islamic State and quickly finds himself drawn into a shadowy plot to murder an Iranian scientist in Istanbul. But nothing is what it seems, and before long August realises he has gone too far to turn back. As he struggles to break free from the clutches of Islamic State and play off British intelligence against their Turkish counterparts, he will find his resourcefulness, ingenuity and courage tested to the very limit of what he can endure. The second novel in a trilogy about loyalty and betrayal in the modern world, How to Betray Your Country is an authentic thriller about the thin line between following your conscience and following orders.
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I love characters who veer from the norm – those who shun stereotypical representations are especially high on my list. Enter August Drummond, the central character of James Wolff’s latest spy thriller How to Betray Your Country. Here is a man who not only veers from the expectations of a modern spy, he careers down the mountain at a hundred miles per hour, taking everything in his path with him, until he crashes, dishevelled, at the bottom – surrounded by the consequences of his actions.
Initially, we don’t begin the novel with our protagonist, but instead with a report on Operation Inkwell. Within these reports are recounts and recordings of events that occurred during the previous novel ‘Beside the Syrian Sea’. And it appears that August isn’t faring too well and has been a bit of a bad lad. When we do join with August, there’s plenty of evidence to show that he’s not coping at all. Drinking heavily on a flight to Istanbul, he’s pestered by his neighbour and is getting more concerned by the minute about the behaviour of the young man in seat 34c. August’s training has kicked in (despite all the gin) and his instincts tell him something isn’t right. Although attempts to discover more while on the train fail him, he can’t ignore his feelings and even though he is no longer in the employ of the government, August takes it upon himself to investigate further.
Right from the airport, August dives headlong into the mystery involving 34c, whose identity he has now assumed after the man is arrested. But not only is he now caught up in the unfolding mystery behind 34c and terrorist activity, but he also has to consider his other job – the one he actually has to do. Working for a company whose name he can’t remember, for a woman he really doesn’t know, and in a building that’s falling apart, August struggles to remember which way is up, let alone who is who. None of this is helped by August’s obvious alcoholism. He can’t function without a drink – usually several – affecting his ability to concentrate, hold conversations or even dress properly.
It’s soon very clear what has caused this reliance on alcohol. August’s wife was killed recently in Germany – caught under the wheels of a lorry – and he hasn’t processed his grief in any way. Eventually, we understand just how badly (and quickly) he fell for his wife, giving an understanding of the depth of his grief.
I’ll be honest with you – it took me a long time to get into How to Betray Your Country. I would really recommend reading the first novel in the trilogy. Yes, this novel could stand on its own as there a plenty of flashbacks and the interspersed reports give plenty of detail, but to really do it justice you need the detail of the first book.
Wolff adopts an interesting point of view for his main character and it’s one that demands attention. A great deal of August Drummonds interactions with other characters are in his head; imaginings of either events, conversations or their lives that these people have done, had or lived through before meeting with August. I like this technique a lot. It makes the reader challenge the reality around August and his actions as well as what is going on in his head. Make no mistake, August is the textbook definition of the ‘unreliable narrator’ and this creates an exciting narrative throughout the novel.
As someone who has worked for the government, Wolff fills How to Betray Your Country with enough ‘spy-talk’ to feel authentic but it’s never overwhelming. The only time I felt lost was amid all the acronyms used within the Inkwell reports. Outside of these reports, Wolff has an involving way with words that really draws you into the surroundings and gets you more invested with the plot.
Wolff’s writing is clever, engrossing and realistic, bringing life to characters that in other hands could have come of as one-dimensional. How to Betray Your Country is filled with great characters engaged in witty, authentic dialogue that pops at just the right time, but is also reflective and filled with melancholy. I look forward to the publication of the third title, wher I will no dount read all three back to back.
Buy the Book
Tour organised by Anne at Random Things Tours. Check her out on Twitter and Facebook as well as other dates on the tour.