(2009) David Devereux, Gollancz, £12.99, trdpbk, 233 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-07987 -5
The central character of this novel is Jack - no surname, and according to the jacket, "magician by profession, bastard by nature… Jack works for a secret government agency tasked with defending the nation from whichever supernatural threat comes our way. The fact that you don’t believe in the supernatural means they are doing their job." Eagle Rising follows an earlier book called Hunter‘s Moon (2007, Gollancz) and is to be followed by Turnabout, both also featuring Jack. In this one, he is assigned to infiltrate and frustrate a neo-Nazi cult bent on reincarnating Hitler by occult means – to distinguish it from similar plot-lines in episodes of The [New] Avengers and The Man from UNCLE, to say nothing of The Boys from Brazil.
The media comparisons are less unfair than you might suppose. The opening chapter is structured exactly like the pre-credit sequence of a Bond film – Jack is infiltrating a Scottish castle to obtain a black magician’s notes, which have nothing to do with the plot of this book, and apart from the Maguffin that he’s after, there is no supernatural element involved. A the end he is trapped and shot with paintballs, so it was just an exercise, except that he is apparently killed one guard (“Ever heard of the Vulcan Death Grip?”) and explicitly killed another (“A quick finishing move that should leave his neck nicely snapped and his spinal chord severed concludes matters.”) In the Bond films, that kind of exercise is what the bad guys perpetrate - e.g. the opening sequence of From Russia with Love.
Is this opening supposed to convince us that even the good guys are ‘bastards’? When Jack goes on to infiltrate the neo-Nazis, he spends a lot of time agonising over the hate crimes which he has to commit in order to establish his credibility. In my limited experience of talking to professional operatives, or watching interviews with former ones, their training ensures that they have no qualms about whatever the job requires them to do, be the victims innocent or guilty. More normal human values may resurface later, and when the victim later meets the torturer, it’s often the abuser who cracks - but that’s much later.
The British Secret Service has established an HQ on another astral plane, which Jack uses to communicate with his superiors when conventional channels are inaccessible. That and the two séances raising Hitler are the only supernatural elements in what is otherwise a pretty standard spy story, and when Hitler is reincarnated, Jack disposes of him by perfectly conventional means. 'Magician by profession, bastard by nature' says the cover, but it is not what you get.
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