This review is courtesy of Brittany, who requested I read it on behalf of the author. I like a good spy thriller, and it was a quick read, so why not? It’s a combination that works. And good timing too, because I was rather in need of a palette cleanser after some of the heavier books I’ve been reading. That’s why I like spy novels. No matter how dark or heavy they get, the vast majority of them are just fun.
Imagine being knocked over by a strange old man on a cold London morning. The man delivers a garbled message about the queen. Moments later he falls under the wheels of a train. The media calls it suicide, but you know better – something doesn’t quite add up.
That was the start of the day for John Daniel, a foreign professional working in the city of London. Meanwhile, retired MI6 agent Adam Grey receives a call from an old informant: “Your service is rotten….” Soon Adam is dragged out of retirement, and John is dragged into the murky world of international espionage, politics, and jihadi terrorism.
An intense and explosive thriller that hits frighteningly close to the truth for a work of fiction.
My understanding is that this is author Joni Dee’s debut novel. Good times, right? First impressions are so important when starting out. As a 007 fan, I respect when a spy thriller hits the ground running. And the Wolf Shall Dwell most definitely does, and it doesn’t really let up much. As the synopsis says, our protagonist is swept up into the events of the story, and he’s along for the ride whether he wants to be or not. Dee is very clearly a fan of the likes of Fleming, La Carré, and more modern books and movies that these authors inspired, such as the Bourne series. Do yourself a favor real quick. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and look at the cover art. About as “classic British spy” as it gets, right? It’s so much so that the narration calls out these ideas from time to time as points of reference, like the things he experiences are from an action movie. This will land differently for different readers, of course; seems natural to me for an everyman character to do that. Likewise, some of the characters seem to step from the ranks of many spy novels and movies you can name… the more believable character types, not the infamous 007 baddies. They’re colorful in their own way, somewhat cookie cutter from formula without being overly stereotyped, and they serve their purpose in pushing the pacing forward. The pacing, in my opinion, is the star of this book.
The writing style felt for me like it was visualized as a film screenplay and then transcripted into novel form, which will work well for the visually-inclined reader who plays this out in her head like I do. It doesn’t have the cold elegance of a Le Carré novel. Likewise it’s not as flamboyant nor as derailing as Fleming tale. Fleming was known for stopping the story to tell you all about the food or the drink or the car or whatever. When he stayed on point, the story practically wrote itself on pacing alone. Suppose you could cross the two? You’d want the realism of Le Carré with the pulpy fun of Fleming’s Bond. At least, I would. And that’s what I feel is here. Dee sells the verisimilitude with an intricate understanding of the different organizations and their operations. Add in the modern Bond level pacing. The audiobook clocks in at just over five hours. It burns quicker than that, even with exposition. Like most independent publications, it feels like it could be even more than it is with the services of an experienced editor, but I can’t accuse it of being disjointed or schizophrenic. Quite the reverse, it’s quite streamlined. I can think of a number of cases where this story in similar hands would be three times longer and half as good. That’s a credit to any author; kudos to Dee for that. I had a great deal of fun with it. It does make me wonder what’s on the “cutting room floor.”
The weak spot for me on the audiobook is the narrator, Paul Jenkins. I can tell he’s not that experienced yet, so I’m not going to bust his chops. He reads with inflection, and he’s clearly putting himself into this. His accents add some flavor without being over the top, which is always appreciated. With some added tricks of the trade that he’s sure to pick up from insiders, he’ll get there. But… I’m sorry, I have to call this out, even if it does sound like I’m nitpicking. The word “nuclear”… it’s not pronounced “nuk-u-ler.” Having grown up in backwoods Texas, this is how I expect people in my neck of the woods to say it, and even that’s annoying. Think George W. Bush, since he was well-known for saying it that way. Now put that in a British accent. The first time it was distracting. After that, it became cartoonish to the point of undermining both the performance and the story. Or perhaps it’s just me. Again, mileage may vary. And that really is my biggest issue all around.
In any case, I still had fun with it. As I hoped, it served as an entertaining afternoon read in the wake of so many more serious books.
Thank you to author Joni Dee for the book, and thank you to Brittany for pointing me to it.