It’s 1956, and all hell is about to break out. The U.S. has been testing the first hydrogen bombs, and the USSR and the UK are both scrambling to produce their own. Soviet spies Burgess and Maclean have recently appeared in public in Moscow for the first time since defecting from England five years earlier. The British, French, and Israelis are planning to invade Egypt, to seize control of the Suez Canal from the Nasser regime. Hungary is soon to explode in an ill-considered revolt against Soviet occupation. And just a year later, the USSR will launch the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, accelerating the arms race with the United States.
The Envoy (William Catesby #1) by Edward Wilson
@@@@@ (5 out of 5)
Deadly competition: the CIA, the KGB, British intelligence and the H-bomb
The Envoy opens in 1948 as Kit Fournier, then serving as U.S. Consul in Nice, has a difficult run-in with former Ambassador Joe Kennedy, whose daughter Kathleen has just died in an airplane crash on her way to a rendezvous with her lover. To avoid Kennedy’s wrath, Kit leaves the foreign service to join the CIA. This is only the first episode in the novel to involve real-life characters.
The plot begins to unfold eight years later, in 1956, with Kit positioned as CIA Station Chief in London. His relationship with his colleagues in the intelligence game is shaky on all sides: within the Agency, with MI6 and MI5, and with the KGB. In fact, it would appear that he is closer to the local head of the KGB than he is to anyone in Western intelligence. The two routinely swap information of mutual interest — a practice that may actually be real, if the work of John le Carre can be trusted.
The Envoy is a tale of obsessive love, international politics, and rivalry among the various intelligence services. The stakes couldn’t be higher: the global power afforded by possession of the H-bomb. It’s a fascinating and suspenseful story that concludes with a sequence of surprises.
Characters straight out of history
In addition to the Kennedys, the Dulles brothers, Allen (CIA Director) and Foster (Secretary of State), figure prominently in The Envoy. So does the notorious Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. In the background of the story are Soviet leaders Nikita Khruschchev and Nikolai Bulganin and British officials Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, and Hugh Gaitskell, as well as a minor figure, a British diver named Lionel Crabb, who gains notoriety in the course of the story, as he did in real life.
Such well-known and powerful figures as Allen Dulles and Anthony Eden are typically treated in fiction as larger than life. In The Envoy, Wilson brings to bear intimate details from their lives that betray a considerable depth of research. Every detail with which I’m familiar from a reading of history rings 100% true.
About the author
Edward Wilson is a decorated veteran of the U.S. Special Forces who served as an officer in the Vietnam War. Reading between the lines of his biography, it seems that that experience led him to oppose U.S. foreign policy so strongly that he renounced his American citizenship to become a British subject. For the past thirty years he has lived in England, working as a teacher. He has written six espionage novels.
For additional reading
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- The 10 top espionage novels reviewed on this site;
- 20 good nonfiction books about espionage; and
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series.
If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).