Wednesday, 26 June 2019


Three years ago, former MI6 agent Paul Sampson was hired by his old employers to track down a 13 year old Syrian refugee who might possess key data about an ISIS attack on Europe. He met and fell in love with aid worker Anastasia Christakos while tracking Naji Touma, and the three of them were rescued by in Macedonia by billionaire Denis Hisami, who owed Sampson a huge factor for finding his sister's fate.

Now, their affair having burned out, Anastasia is married to Hisami, and she has been kidnapped in Italy and disappeared. The motive does not appear to be ransom, but something else that involves Hisami's money and investments, and the operatives he hires to track her down bring Sampson on board, though he would be impossible to keep from joining the search anyway. And he needs to, because all of a sudden, Hisami's American empire is under threat, and he's being accused of being a Kurdish terrorist in his past life.

As with Firefly, the novel that detailed the pursuit of Naji Touma, the core of Henry Porter's new thriller is a chase with multiple pursuers who may be as much in conflict with each other as with the kidnappers. Like the previous book, White Hot Silence does pick up its pace as the various agents near each other, while in the background the question of who and why keeps the reader guessing. It's a complicated tale and like its predecessor it does allow for a little deus ex machina from characters who just happen to be in the right spot with the right talents, and a certain randomness in exactly which mobile phones can and can't be traced instantly, but everything is moving so fast that hardly matters. What matters more is the resourcefulness of the characters, not least the kidnapped Anastasia and the now more mature Touma, who is a computer genius of the first order. And of course, what will happen if Paul does find Anastasia. When it all comes together in Estonia, the denoument contains a finish as suprising as it is logical.

But beneath all this action, Porter is making a very serious serious point, which ought to resonate with readers in Brexit Britain at a time when, as I write this, Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson's links to the American nationalist strategist and former Trump campaign savant Steve Bannon have been revealed and attracted virtually zero attention in the mainstream media. What follows might be a bit of a spoiler...

Anastasia's kidnapping has been arranged to prevent Hasami's revealing money laundering taking place on behalf of right-wing, Russian-backed, populist nationalist groups around Europe. It would be nice to have had the operation explained more fully by one of the characters nearer the top who needed to play Bond Villain, but the task is left to one of the actual kidnapping thugs, Kirill, an ex FSB interrogator who wants to discuss Huckleberry Finn with his captive.

As Kirill explains to Anastasia: “now Americans have lost their ability to see good or bad.They've turned on their country, their greatest enemies are their fellow citizens—imagine that! They are fearful; they see plots where there are none, their information is corrupted and no one is able to form a sensible conclusion about best interests of people. And now we watch them abandon principles of Constitution. It's like a dream for us.

The people are soft and idle and now they cannot tell difference between up and down. It was not espionage that destabilised the US. It was the vanity and weakness of its people. We played on their weaknesses and they did the rest. Same in UK.”

It was nice Kirill threw in those last three words, in case we missed his vodka-fuelled point, and he doesn't need to throw in lots of details for us to be able to connect the dots. Porter was making similar serious points in his earlier novels, about terrorism in Empire State (2003) and the roots of the new Russia in Brandenburg (2005), which was set at the fall of the Berlin Wall and featured a young KGB colonel named Putin. Both those books featured Porter's previous spy character, Robert Harland, and Harland makes his reappearance as the story reaches its climax, as he has just happened to retire to Tallinn, where he can provide some of the deus ex machina mentioned earlier. In any event, it is nice to see him back.

Harland is another link to MI6, and one of the most interesting of White Hot Silence's subplots is the return of Sampson's MI6 nemeses, Peter Nyman and Sonia Fell, agents who seem to have a different agenda, and in this case seem to be working their own game. It's another good thing Paul has his own extremely friendly MI6 source. Nyman and Fell's game ought to be part of the sequel to this novel, because there is much left unresolved, not least the futures of Paul, Anastasia and Denis Hisami. One wonders how much current affairs might impact that one.

White House Silence by Henry Porter
Quercus, £16.99, ISBN 9781787470804

note: this review will also appear at Crime Time (

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