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Spook Country by Williams Gibson

01/10/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Spook Country in the USA - or Buy Spook Country in the UK

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pub: Penguin. 370 page enlarged paperback. Price: 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-141-01671-9).

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The nice people at Penguin asked what I would make of this book bearing in mind it was written by William Gibson, the key originator of the cyberpunk novels. Whether moving to thrillers is something Gibson is going to do for long remains to be seen. Certainly, based off this one, he either needs to learn more about the genre or what the real game of espionage is all about.

The plot makes more sense from the back cover. Never a good sign although this has happened a few times in the books I've been reviewing lately. Essentially the plot is chasing various characters moving around the globe and figuring out what they are up to and whether they should be stopped. If I tell you what the goal is, you'll have the ultimate spoiler for the story and in the tradition of spy stories, I'd have to kill you.

Two immediate things struck me about this story. If you think product placement only happens in films then you need to read this one. Gibson has enthused various products throughout much of this book, going for intricate detail setting the scenes at the cost of character development. Unfortunately, doing that has made the characters ciphers lacking any emotional content and you don't really care what happens to them. Le Carre this isn't. Towards the end of the book, some of the characters are put into hazardous conditions and although they take precautions, no one is scared. Even hardened agents would be wary where they have gone. No one is that fearless.

This doesn't mean the story isn't readable but it does become a lesson in what not to do which is a shame for someone of Gibson's calibre, for whom you'd expect more. I read on cos that's what reviewing is all about but it was more to see if he would break out of this level pattern throughout and give some life to proceedings. Don't read this book expecting to see the Gibson of old even if you want to see him tackle a different genre.

GF Willmetts

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