1 out of 4 stars
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The Accidental Spy is the fictional autobiography of Nick Wargrave-Rogers, an archetypal trust fund brat. Born the son of a State Senator and the socialite daughter of a billionaire, the only thing lacking in his childhood was human affection. Blessed with a photographic memory, Nick coasts through law school and gets the opportunity to study for a postgraduate degree in London. Once graduated, he chooses to stay in England, far from his family’s influence, and make his own way.
Cohabiting with his girlfriend Anna, Nick lives on his income from his grandfather’s trust fund until his father procures him a job with the American Embassy, where Nick encounters the enigmatic Sami Hussein, a Middle Eastern ‘fixer’ living in London. Fascinated by Sami’s charisma, Nick is perfectly willing to go to work for Sami while reporting back to the State Department, who are very interested in the fixer’s deals and contacts. Suddenly caught up in fake passport deals for ‘persons of interest’, Nick has to use all his ingenuity to escape with his life.
The book is told mostly in first person from Nick’s point of view, with occasional chapters in the third person from other significant characters in the book, such as Sami Hussein and Becky, Nick’s CIA handler and later wife. Nick’s story is told as a stream of consciousness, the retelling of events interspersed with his opinions in an almost chatty style, inviting the reader to feel as though they are sitting down for a conversation with a friend.
The problem I had with this approach was that I thought Nick was absolutely despicable and the last person in the world I would want to be friends with. He considers every woman he encounters in the book on the criteria of how much he wants to have sex with them. He constantly attempts to touch Becky even after she’s given him clear warning that she only wants a professional relationship with him, and after finally winning her, promptly sets about trying to convince her to give up her career despite knowing how important it is to her. He is a physical coward and the only time in the book when he shows even a hint of moral outrage is when he is briefly kidnapped by Hamas.
In short, Nick Wargrave-Rogers is a sociopath who doesn’t care about anything except himself and his own desires.
Now, this is hardly the first book I’ve read with an unsympathetic protagonist. Bret Easton Ellis’ classic American Psycho springs to mind immediately, but that is a very different book in its searing satire and commentary on the consumerism of the 1980s. It is clear when reading American Psycho that the story is intended to be a horror. The audience is meant to be disgusted by Patrick Bateman’s narcissistic, sociopathic character and repulsed by his actions.
In contrast, The Accidental Spy paints Nick Wargrave-Rogers as the hero of his own narrative. Everything he wants falls into his lap and everyone else is either a means to an end or an obstacle to be overcome. Even Becky, whom he claims to love, is eventually nothing more than an inconvenience when she won’t accede to his demands for her to give up her career.
I don’t quite know what the point of this book was or who it is meant to appeal to. The story of a sociopathic trust-fund brat who gets everything he ever wanted without ever having to face the consequences of his actions is frankly disgusting, and it’s not even saved by a great writing style.
Indeed, the author is strongly in need of an editor; I knew that when on page 2 I encountered the phrase “I can still here my mother’s voice” and noted the author’s complete ignorance of the proper place to use a comma. Hear and here are mixed up many times in the story, and there are even more disastrous mistakes such as the mis-spelling of the country Libya as “Lybia” on multiple occasions. Perhaps the most egregious error of all is a reference to “the aborigines of New Zealand” which is racist and ignorant in ways I can’t even begin to express, but a two-minute search on Wikipedia would have explained.
That last error is the only reason why I finished the book instead of throwing it aside in disgust. I wanted to honestly be able to say that I had finished it so that I could properly review it. I do not believe in critiquing something with incomplete knowledge of that thing.
Having finished the book, however, I can with a clear conscience give it one out of four stars.
The Accidental Spy
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