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Memorable thriller melds spy, detective fiction

by Peter Guttridge

The Observer

THE JACKAL’S SHARE, by Chris Morgan Jones. Mantle, 2013, 320 pp., $26.95 (hardcover)

Chris Morgan Jones’ debut novel, “An Agent of Deceit,” was rightly praised for continuing the reconfiguration of the spy novel begun by such terrific authors as Charles Cumming after the Berlin Wall came down and east versus west became too simplistic an analysis of world politics. (With hindsight, of course, it always was.)

But with “The Jackal’s Share” it becomes clear that, actually, Morgan Jones is writing detective as well as spy fiction. The novel is as much Raymond Chandler as John le Carre; as much “The Big Sleep” as “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.”

Broadly speaking, classic spy fiction twists and tweaks apparently straightforward facts and re-presents them in startling ways. Classic detective fiction starts with a simple job that becomes more complicated with the turn of every page. “The Jackal’s Share” is both.

The author gives a nod to the influence of the classic private eye story when he points out that the offices in protagonist Ben Webster’s HQ are named after his colleague’s favorite detectives, including Chandler’s Marlowe and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.

Ben Webster’s character has interesting complexities. Like Marlowe, he has his own morality and doesn’t much like the wealthy — including his own client.

But down these moneyed streets a man must go, although, unlike Marlowe, Webster does it with wife and kids in tow.

The family stuff and the titillating descriptions of Webster’s encounters with another woman are a bit tedious and seem written by rote, but Webster’s characterization is strong and carried along in the flow of the plot.

The author is deft with all his characterizations but, in particular, he has created two genuinely chilling antagonists.