I’ve joined in a Summer Of Spies theme on booklikes.com. My first effort, “Real Tigers” was with a tried and trusted favourite and I enjoyed my third Slough House story immensely.
Then I decided to try something new. I picked “The Traitor’s Story” because it’s about British spies but it’s set in Lausanne, a city I know well.
The first disappointment was the narrator: Simon Vance. Yes, I know he’s an award-winning narrator, but I found his plumy Brit accent irritating, especially as he delivered the story with all the vocal range and passion of Gregorian Chant. He also sounded too old for the main character in the book. Still, his delivery was news-reader clear and unhalting so I decided to try and tune him out and let the book stand on its text.
The text itself was the next disappointment. The prose is sparse without being lean: functional in that put-me-out-of-my-misery-and-give-me-the-movie version sort of way. There where many exotic European locations, most of which I know well and yet there was almost no sense of place.
The characterisation ranged from the cute (which means bad things are bound to happen to them) to the dispassionate (which might even be appropriate given that the main character is a hollow, desiccated man whose only distinguishing characteristics seem to be emotional withdrawal and a willingness to kill). I quickly realised that I didn’t really care what happened to any of these people.
For a while, I thought the plot might come to the rescue as it ran two timelines in parallel which suggested that we were heading for an interesting convergence at some point. The plot was well constructed but completely unsurprising. In fact, the only surprising thing about this book was that the main character has been able to afford to live in Lausanne for six years of the proceeds of writing a few popular history books.
The final confrontation between the bad guy and the slightly less bad guy who was the Traitor of the title summed up my feelings about the book. The hero looks at the destruction he has wrought and asks
“But what was the point of final words between them? What had been the point of any of it?”
Sadly, the book lumbered on for another couple of chapters to wrap up loose ends I no longer cared about and to make a belated and unsuccessful effort to convince me that our hero might still have a chance of living a worthwhile life.
I’m done with Kevin Wignall and Simon Vance.
On the off chance that you can hear something in Simon Vance’s performance that I missed, you can click on the SoundCloud link below to play a sample.