The Old Enemy by Henry Porter #BookReview #BlogTour

Heart-stopping international spy thriller from ‘An espionage master’ (Charles Cumming) starring ex-MI6 officer Paul Samson for fans of Mick Herron, Lee Child and John le Carre.

Ex-MI6 officer Paul Samson has been tasked with secretly guarding a gifted young woman, Zoe Freemantle. He is just beginning to tire of the job when he is attacked in the street by a freakish looking knifeman. It’s clear the target is on his back not hers. What he doesn’t know is who put it there.

At that moment, his mentor, the MI6 legend Robert Harland lies dead on a remote stretch of the Baltic coastline. Who needed to end the old spy’s life when he was, in any case, dying from a terminal illness? And what or who is Berlin Blue, the name scratched in the sketchbook beside his body?

A few hours later, Samson watches footage from the US Congress where billionaire philanthropist Denis Hisami is poisoned with a nerve agent while testifying – an attack that is as spectacular as it is lethal, but spares Anastasia Hisami, the love of Samson’s life.

Two things become clear. One, it was a big mistake to lose the mysterious Zoe Freemantle. And two, Robert Harland is making a final play from beyond the grave.

It is such a pleasure to be opening the blog tour for The Old Enemy today, many thanks to Henry Porter, Quercus Books and Sophie from Midas PR for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

The Old Enemy is the third book featuring ex-MI6 officer Paul Samson but the first I have read. While I'm sure returning readers will enjoy being reunited with the characters and will have the benefit of prior knowledge of what happened previously, I didn't feel my enjoyment of the novel was curtailed by my reading it as a standalone. The long history between spies is explored throughout the book and so actually, not knowing everything and discovering information as the story progresses adds to the sense of the past still affecting the present.
It's the relationship between the West and Russia which becomes a central theme but although The Old Enemy has all the intrigue and suspense of a classic Cold War tale, it is also a strikingly contemporary thriller. Russia's influence on the democratic processes in the West, particularly the harvesting and manipulation of data, are explored to devastating effect and are a chilling reminder that our governments are as vulnerable now as they've always been. It's a complex novel with a large cast of characters and so not an especially light read but I really enjoyed the pervasive sensation of murkiness. 
The assassination of Samson's former mentor, Robert Marland is quickly followed by an attempt to kill billionaire philanthropist and possible war criminal, Denis Hisami who is poisoned with a nerve agent similar to Novichok, and then Samson himself is targeted in London. The governments in the UK and USA are keen to suggest the attacks were revenge for a previous mission but he is convinced the truth goes much deeper. When the authorities start to actively obstruct the investigation, Samson is still able to call on old friends and perhaps enlist the assistance of new allies - although who can actually be trusted isn't fully clear right up to the terrifically tense conclusion.
Paul Samson is an engaging, believable protagonist but I must admit to having a sneaking affection for the older spies, Macy and particularly Cuth Avocet, who is better known as the Bird. Although spying is often portrayed as a rather lonely business, the often witty but occasionally more poignant dialogue reveals real camaraderie and indeed friendship between these colleagues. Likewise, while they might be looking to expose corruption that goes right to the very top, there is also a sense of honour here too. These are not people who are blindly patriotic but they believe in protecting the people against a familiar enemy. 
It's not just older faces who have an important role to play here, however, and although there is a strong suggestion that the Cold War never really went away, there is still an acceptance of necessary change, with the old guard making way for new faces. Zoe Freemantle, Naji Touma and Hisani's wife and Samson's sometimes lover, Anastasia might not be part of the establishment but they too have vital roles to play alongside Samson and there are excitingly tense scenes where each is given the opportunity to demonstrate their courage and resourcefulness.
The Old Enemy isn't a comforting read; the collection of data through our use of social media and its manipulation by hostile individuals and nations is something that should concern us all, as should the willingness of our own governments to cover-up those inconvenient truths which may embarrass a country.  The intricate plotting and the gradual divulging of the truth however, meant I couldn't put the book down. The numerous locations are all vividly described giving an excellent sense of place while the suspense is cleverly shared between the dramatic action scenes and the whispered conversations and clandestine meetings. Espionage thrillers at their best give us a revealing window into a secretive world we know exists but acknowledge we have little understanding of -  and The Old Enemy does just that. Authentic and riveting throughout, I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from Henry Porter in the future.

The Old Enemy will be published by Quercus Books on 15th April 2021, purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting our fabulous independent bookshops whenever possible - they are now re-open for those who prefer to buy in store!

The online launch for The Old Enemy takes place on Wednesday 14th April at Toppings, Edinburgh. More details can be found here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Henry Porter was a regular columnist for the Observer and now writes about European power and politics for The Hive website in the US. He has written several bestselling thrillers, including Brandenburg, which won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, A Spy’s Life and Empire State, which were both nominated for the same award. He is also the author of the Paul Samson spy thrillers: Firefly, which won the 2019 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize, and White Hot Silence. Henry Porter is frequently described as the heir to John le CarrĂ©. He lives in London.