Shake Off is a ‘spy thriller of the highest order’, or so the blurbers tell you.
In fact, the inside cover flap tells us that Michel Khoury is a skilled intelligence operative. He is skilled. He has been trained in all sorts of trade-craft, but somehow ‘skilled intelligence operative’ implies, to me at least, someone who understands his mission. Michel doesn’t. He is more like a puppet, doing the job he is asked to do, no questions asked, simply because he believes in his handler.
I found it hard to care about someone who asked so few questions his entire life. It seemed superficial to me. Learning of the ultimate betrayal of someone he trusts he feels embarrassment, sham, and like ‘an empty shell’. Somehow, if the person most responsible for what my life and purpose had become turned out to be other than what I thought they were, I would feel more than that.
Blurbers also compare Hiller to John le Carre, Ken Follet and Graham Green. In my opinion he does not come close to any of them, not in style or content. Neither, I think, does he compare to Joseph Kanon or Alan Furst. Just because they all write spy stories, doesn’t mean they are comparable in skill.
The writing style was not awful, but neither was it outstanding. While the plot wasn’t really as convoluted as good spy thrillers usually are, more skillful writing could have made the book into more of a ‘page turner’ or ‘thriller’. Perhaps, telling the story in the ‘first person’ limited the depth Hiller could bring to the supporting cast. The character development was, to me, the weakest part. Background was given for the characters, but in a short perfunctory way, making them, and their actions, cardboard like. Certainly all of the characters could have been given greater depth.
Perhaps, if the blurbers had not been so effusive with their praise I would not have had such high expectations and would not have been so disappointed.