The Bottom Line: A mesmerizing, sophisticated and hugely successful espionage novel that echoes – and even rivals – Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Michael Frost Beckner’s second Spy Game novel begins in 2001, just months before 9/11. More than 50 American agents have suddenly gone silent. Have they been arrested or captured? Could they have defected? Could they be dead?
No one is quite sure, and tensions in the American intelligence community are high.
CIA lawyer Russell Aiken is suddenly assigned to Clandestine Services. His mission is to head to Malaysia to locate rogue agent Tom Bishop, who’s accused of murdering his own father, legendary spy Nathan Muir.
The last of Muir’s agents has just materialized in Kuala Lumpur, sending a coded message to the American embassy. He’s afraid for his life. And he claims to know what happened to Muir’s elaborate intelligence network. If anyone can bring him in, and solve the Bishop problem as well, it’s Russell Aiken.
Bishop’s Engame, the sequel to Muir’s Gambit (voted The Year’s Best Spy Thriller), is a sophisticated, multilayered – and above all, mesmerizing – novel that can be enjoyed as a stand-alone for first-time readers. And for fans of both the first book as well as the Spy Game film, Beckner goes to great lengths to establish the timeline (key events are referred to early on in terms of years, days and at times, even hours, from prior milestones).
The story is told largely from Aiken’s point of view, which is all the more poignant because our hero is suffering from a brain tumor. Inhabiting Aiken’s mind as he embarks on a seemingly impossible mission with sky-high stakes would be exhilarating enough. Doing so when at times he can’t recall the name of his own sister or doctor, makes the struggle all the more palpable.
Passages detailing Tom Bishop’s quest in the jungle are equally visceral. The jungle heat, humidity, buzz of insects and danger lurking in each and every shadow leap off the page. Along with occasional fits of desperation, Beckner’s two leading men also prove to be masters of their trade, and the combination makes for a book that is impossible to put down.
Parallels with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness are obvious (Beckner even delivers a nod to the classic with a single, poignant line to the tale deep in the book). Comparatively, however, Bishop’s Endgame may be a more complex work. What’s more, the geopolitical context of the time in which it is set – while more than two decades ago – still resonates today.