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Seven Down by David Whitton

Reviewed by Jim Napier

This month, a change of pace. Canadian crime writer David Whitton draws on previous literary efforts by others (not least Dorothy Sayers’ The Documents in the Case, and Mick Herron’s darkly comic Slough House series) to create his novel Seven Down, and comes up with an original tale satirizing the world of spies and black ops.

The setting is the aftermath of a clandestine operation gone awry. Decades earlier, seven sleeper agents had been inserted into the employee ranks of an upscale hotel in downtown Toronto. None of them are aware of the identity of the others, or even that they exist. Their brief is to remain in place and go about their normal duties until they are activated by their controllers with a special phrase. Thus is Operation Fear and Trembling conceived.

But as any parent is painfully aware, there is a world of difference between the most elegant of plans and everyday reality.

In the wake of what becomes an unmitigated disaster, a senior analyst is assigned to discover just what went wrong with the operation. He reviews the written debriefings of each of the clandestine agents; the novel Seven Down consists entirely of those debriefings together with the analyst's own observations. Little by little, the curtain is drawn aside, and the reader is given snippets of information, which gradually confirms Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong will go wrong.

Thus, Seven Down thumbs its nose at the world of spooks and spy craft, and at novels that attempt to take these shenanigans seriously. It is a witty and insightful commentary on the tendency of those in power to assume that grandiose plans can be made to change the course of history. Highly amusing, and a much-needed antidote to the writings of too many spy novelists.

Seven Down is published by Dundurn Press.


In addition to being a reviewer with over six hundred reviews to his credit, Jim Napier is the acclaimed author of Legacy and Ridley’s War, in the Colin McDermott mystery series.


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