The Good Spy Dies Twice is a contemporary thriller by Mark Hosack and by contemporary, I mean it takes place right before the election this year. By contemporary, I mean the drone program, Brexit, and the Panama Papers are part of the narrative. It is happening now and it captures much of the paranoiac zeitgeist that roils our body politic.
The story opens with a frightening scene with Brody White, a soundman for a streaming news program called Bullseye. Brody was trying to record the rumored “Dagestan Hum” which brings to mind The Hum heard around the world. He captures a recording of the Hum, but then he is captured before he can get away. His boss and good friend, Jake Baxter, identifies his body at a Moscow morgue and, convinced that Brody was murdered, delves deep into the conspiratorial waters until an infamous on-air breakdown ends his career and sends him into years of therapy.
That was then. This is three years later and Jake is married to his former producer, Claire. who was once engaged to Brody. Jake feels a bit of that “how can I compete with a dead man” inadequacy, but they are in love and happy and on their honeymoon—a working honeymoon for Claire is now a travel writer and Jake is preparing for his LSATs. They have come to Blind River, Alaska, a secluded, exclusive ski resort, the trip paid by the magazine.
Right from the beginning, things feel amiss to Jake. Claire disappears, does not respond to his texts and messages and he eventually calls the police, but then she shows up. This happens again and he is certain she is hiding something from him. Jake is not sure, though, if his reportorial instincts or his paranoia are in charge.
There are certainly plenty of suspicious types around, the Russian couple, the strange coughing man whose face is wrecked by plastic surgeries, the obnoxious and loud lawyer and the frail young woman who looks uncannily like the Soviet artist Ana Turov who mysteriously disappeared from the hotel back in the 60s, either a defector or a murder victim depending on who you ask. There’s the creepy hotelier Christopher Kidd and his not-quite-right staff Summer and Al.
But for Jake, it all comes crashing down in a devastating accident that leaves him in a wheelchair, convinced that the accident was not an accident and determined to find out who killed Claire and injured him. Despite his agony and his limited supply of oxycontin, he goes back to the hotel to find the truth and a truly harrowing showdown.
I usually avoid conspiracy thrillers, but I loved the title. So, I gave it a try. I think this succeeds because in the end, the motivations were human and personal. In many ways, The Good Spy Dies Twice is very intimate. Blind River is as cut off as And Then There Were None and despite the vastness of the mountains and the hotel, this brings in a claustrophobic element that compounds Baxter’s paranoia and fear.
The Good Spy Dies Twice is unusual in its genre in that a fair amount of the violence happens off screen. There are only a few “fight scenes” but when you have a believable fight scene between a man in a wheelchair with a lamp against a Russian with an axe, including every confrontation and murder would be overkill. Hosack also has the good sense to let Jake close his eyes when we don’t want to see. The best thing about the book is how often we have to ask ourselves, “Is it conspiracy or is it paranoia?” The fact that there’s a book about it puts a bit of a thumb on the scale, but Hosack does succeed in making Jake’s suspicions unreliable.
If you like thrillers, you should enjoy this. It is fast-paced and gets the tension building from the start. It is a bit unsatisfying because not every question is answered, which is perhaps why this is a first in a series. I will have to read the next one, or two or twenty to find out more.
The Good Spy Dies Twice will be released on September 13th. I was provided a e-galley by the publisher through Net Galley.