Long time readers of this blog, all three of you at this point, will know that I am a fan of Kevin Wignall. I believe I have read all of his books and even interviewed him a few times. So I am always excited when he has a new novel out. And this time I am going to review it in a timely manner.
I was able to get a review copy of The Traitor’s Story from NetGalley. And not surprisingly given that it is Wignall, it turned out to be an intelligent espionage thriller that explores the complex nature of loyalty, patriotism and love amongst other things. Although, it is not really a typical thriller until the later part of the book. But at the heart of the story is the challenge and impact of secrets which grows out of espionage and an attempt to escape from it.
I enjoyed the way Wignall builds the characters, particularly Finn, by alternating between the present and the past. Finn is trying to put the past behind him, ironically by writing about the ancient past, but finds it is both a part of who he has become and something that can’t so easily be left behind.
Creatively, Wignall makes the hook that sucks Finn back into the past, a missing American teen, an interesting mini-story in itself. He explores teenage relationships, the lives of expatriates and his mental and emotional habits as this story plays out.
The past that is invading Finn’s present is also a clever, almost minimalist, story of espionage. The multiple stories are sort of like Russian nesting dolls; connected by seemingly separate. The “history” sections highlights the overwhelming gray of secrecy and plot, counter-plot. Who do you trust? What is integrity? Who do you owe your allegiance. To your country? To yourself? To your friends? Finn has to decide.
Once he makes his decision, the action picks up and the last part of the book feels like a thriller.
A couple of points:
I have often castigated or expressed some discontent with the amorality of Wignall’s characters. So to be fair, I should point out that Finn does have a sense of honor and morality. It is not conventional, but it is there. Things like loyalty, honor, friendship, commitment, love, etc. are part of Finn’s world and motivate his actions and decisions. And in the end it feels like he is even trying to learn from his mistakes and be a more honest and open person.
The one thing that felt a little off to me was the very end. Not sure how I can explain it without spoilers so ….
—————————— SPOILERS BELOW ———————–
I didn’t think the reaction of Finn’s girlfriend Abigail was very realistic. She finds out not only that her boyfriend, and the father of her soon to be child, is a spy (which she suspected) but a murderer and borderline traitor/criminal partner of a Russian oligarch. At this point, she decides that the next step is to have sex.
I mean, I guess if you found all this out, and the fact that your boyfriend was obscenely wealthy (to the tune of one hundred and eighty million dollars), the emotion and elation might lead to thoughts of a sexual nature. But wouldn’t the idea of him killing multiple people also strain the relationship at least a little bit? It just felt like a little too neat of a bow tied up on the story.
But the ending didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story. And as I said, it really is an intelligent and entertaining novel. Wignall has warmed up a little in his storytelling. There is less of the ice cold amoralism and more romantic relationships. I am not an expert but I would have to think that will help Wignall reach a wider audience.