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Spycatcher: A Novel

A book by Matthew Dunn

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SPYCATCHER: A Girl's Man In A Man's World

  • Oct 9, 2012
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Yeah, you can call me a lair (if you’re so inclined), but I’ve actually had the good fortune of knowing two gentlemen who worked (in completely different capacities) for the CIA.  One of the fellows I went to high school with was recruited out of college very quickly; he was a languages scholar, and the CIA snatched him up right quick.  His job?  Well, it wasn’t all that glamorous, to be perfectly honest; he spent the bulk of his workday reading foreign magazines and newspapers, scouring them for anything that he believed could have been cryptic information secretly being shared between foreign agents.  The second fellow I worked with in the early nineties; he had been placed inside what was the Soviet Union for the expressed purposes of ‘monitoring’ industrial developments.  Again, what stuck with me about the task was that it was far from thrilling, certainly far from the exploits of, say, James Bond, a man called Sloane, or any man from U.N.C.L.E.  It was … well … routine, one might say.
What I take away from my experience in knowing these two men is that there’s an awful lot to the inside of the intelligence community that’s far from scintillating and more humdrum, and, to a certain extent, that’s the greatest strength I can find in Matthew Dunn’s SPYCATCHER.  See, the book’s hero spends an awful lot of time ‘getting ready’ and/or ‘getting prepped’ for his various adventures and fisticuffs, and quite a bit of that feels legitimate.  Like a Boy Scout, the hero prepares for his exploits.  Still, on the cover of the book, SPYCATCHER was dubbed as “one of the year’s best thriller debuts” by Lee Child, no less.  My suspicion is that Lee Child didn’t read the draft I did.  That’s not to say that SPYCATCHER doesn’t have some measure of excitement – rather, it does in middling supply, but much of that is tucked into the latter half.  The first half?  Well, there’s an awful lot in there that’s more than a bit hard to swallow.
Will Cochrane is the ULTIMATE asset – the SPYCATCHER on the novel’s name: handpicked by rogue elements within MI6, Cochrane is the ‘Spartan’ (a codename I’m thinking was shamelessly borrowed from the Val Kilmer film of the same name, interestingly enough).  Like any good ‘Highlander’ (for those of you who’ll get the inference), there can be only one: protocols require that, at all times, there is only one living ‘Spartan.’  Once he (or she) dies, another is recruited.  What’s recruitment like?  Well, the reader isn’t told specifically, but we’re led down the path to believing that it’s brutal.  After all, a ‘Spartan’ – much like James Bond – actively uses his (or her) “license to kill” at every opportunity … so when the world’s greatest known terrorist (who also just happens to be the world’s deadliest hand-to-hand fighter AND the world’s quickest draw with a gun AND who can singlehandedly best anyone at anything) who answers to the codename of Megiddo drops onto Cochrane’s radar, you can bet these two opposing forces are about to butt heads, with the loser going down in flames.
Essentially, this is a spy story of an older variety – one told with some hard-boiled characters in only the kinds of circumstances and situations required of a hard-boiled world – when compared with some of the more erudite spy novels of late.  Cochrane is a man’s man – trapped in a man’s world – but first-time author Matthew Dunn curiously supplies his MI6 assassin with a planeload of emotional baggage that would cause James Bond to see a therapist.  There’s a huge backstory – all told with some reasonable flash and sizzle – that involves the man’s late father ALSO having been a super-spy (with ties to both MI6 and the CIA); and I can’t help but wonder if a more accomplished editor could’ve helped Dunn slim down some elements of the character’s history in order to get a finished product with better ‘flow.’  As it stands, much of SPYCATCHER works when the prose is light and quick and efficient; sadly, these parts are spaced out with dense passages that ultimately add little or nothing to the story but give the book respectable ‘girth.’
And then there’s the desperately, hopelessly, heart-tugging romantic subplot involving (what would you expect?) a ravishingly attractive Lana with ties to Mediggo’s past.  Wouldn’t you know it but, on only Cochrane and Lana’s third meeting (the first two having absolutely zero sexual chemistry developed or seriously hinted at) they’re smitten with one another?  He needs her in order to finally have something to care about other than killing baddies, and she needs him in order to heal the chasm left in her soul by her dearly departed lover (the terrorist!).  Oh, say it isn’t so, but why MUST contemporary fiction continuous explore the feminized action hero?  I thought Cochrane was a man’s man, Mr. Dunn.  Please make up your mind!
As a debut novel, it’s seriously plagued by the usual ‘debut novel’ intellect – heroes and villains seeking a theatrical presence, bad guys who can’t help but tell you EVERYTHING they’re about to do to you – and even a few that shouldn’t be here (again, I harken the call for a better editor).  Some think it trite of me to point out such obvious errors made by “accomplished” writers, but (on page 437) Dunn has Cochrane looking at Roger … when Roger was a character Cochrane and Laith dropped off at a hospital two pages back.  Now that Cochrane and Laith are on the other side of town, I think Dunn CLEARLY intended to have Cochrane looking at Laith, not Roger.  It’s moments like these – and SPYCATCHER has a solid handful – that pull me – the reader – out of the story, forcing me to stop, reread the passage, then flip back a few pages to make certain I haven’t made an error in understanding the tale … and that’s NEVER a good thing.
That, and wouldn’t you imagine that a spy trying to “fit in” on a routine train ride to New York City could get by on spending less than $1,500 for one day’s wardrobe?  Cochrane needs nothing more than a change of clothes – I won’t divulge the circumstances so as to not spoil the plot – but $1,500 is a bit much?  Plus, Dunn makes a point of telling the reader that Cochrane bought cologne, too!  Wow.  James Bond prefers his martinis shaken, not stirred, but methinks Cochrane won’t rush in to save the day without a few squirts of man-stink on his neck.  How far we’ve fallen.
And that’s a shame because, as I’ve tried to make clear, there’s an awful lot of SPYCATCHER that is quite good.  I understand a reader might have to employ a willing suspension of disbelief in this day and age, but, as spies go, give me Jason Bourne any day of the week over this sissified man-child.

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More Spycatcher reviews
review by . May 17, 2011
I've always believed that a reader should accept the world presented to him by the author and go from there. Often reading fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but this book stretches that idea to the breaking point and beyond.      The reason I say this is because the author has built a main character who is simply unbelievable! Two days after having three bullets in his stomach he's in an airplane going off on assignment. Throughout the book he is almost …
review by . May 03, 2011
The best spy thriller in a decade
Matthew Dunn's Spycatcher is undoubtedly the best written, most exiting, and original spy thriller of the past decade. It is filled with drama, with twists and turns. Each of his fifty-three chapters has new developments, thrills, suspense, and excitements. Dunn is a former MI6 field officer who conducted seventy-six missions, all successfully. He knows his craft as he demonstrates in his book.      Will Cochrane, the hero, is a seasoned MI6 agent, groomed years back, unbeknownst …
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What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops".   … more
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“Great talent, great imagination, and real been-there done-that authenticity make this one of the year’s best thriller debuts. Highly recommended.” (Lee Child )

“Once in a while an espionage novelist comes along who has the smack of utter authenticity. Few are as daring as Matthew Dunn, fewer still as up-to-date. This isn’t the Cold War, this isn’t even the last ten years, it’s the CIA and MI6 as they are now.” (John Lawton, author ofA Lily of the FieldandBlack Out)

“Not since Fleming charged Bond with the safety of the world has the international secret agent mystique been so anchored with an insider’s reality. The pacing in Matthew Dunn’sSpycatcheris frenetic, and the plotting is meticulous as it continually doubles back on itself.” (Noah Boyd, author ofAgent XandThe Bricklayer)
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ISBN-10: 0062037676
ISBN-13: 978-0062037671
Author: Matthew Dunn
Publisher: William Morrow

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