Magazine article The Spectator

Empire State

Magazine article The Spectator

Empire State

Article excerpt

Several degrees of bluff EMPIRE STATE by Henry Porter Orion, L12.99, pp. 416, ISBN 0752856839

Henry Porter's new book, Empire State, is well up to the high standard of his first two. He is strong on plotting, dialogue, violence, explosions, and - in this latest book - office politics. In this respect, Porter owes something to Len Deighton (I'm thinking of the Hook, Line and Sinker and Faith, Hope and Charity trilogies). Unlike Deighton, though, Porter never lets the unworthy thought sneak into your mind that MI5 office rows seem to be just like everyone else's - i.e. boring for other people to read about. There are two ways to go if you want to write board meetings into your spy story. One is not to take them seriously at all and make the reader laugh at the cynicism and slyness with which the committee men get their way. Michael Pearce does this supremely well in the Mamur Zapt books, writing with all the calm authority of a man who has sat through a thousand academic board meetings. Porter goes the other way. He makes the meetings come alive because he makes you care who's going to win the argument.

What they are arguing about in Empire State is how to deal with an al-Qaeda cell. The book concerns the efforts of the English and American secret services, post-9/11, to keep tabs on a group of Islamic fundamentalists who are spotted switching identities at Heathrow airport towards the start of the book. Counting back, I think this manoeuvre turns out to have been a triple or possibly a quadruple bluff, but I'm not going to spoil it for you by explaining my maths, and it doesn't matter anyway. …

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