Book Review: One Man Running by Clive Egleton

1 Conversation

Reading One Man Running is like watching an episode of The Bill: you spend a lot of time listening to the characters talking to and about each other while waiting for something to happen. The quote on the front cover promises action but if you’re hoping for a book like Robert Ludlum's novels then you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, this novel has its own style, and Clive Egleton is very good at it.

The ‘one man’ referred to in the title is the British spy Peter Ashton. Presumably, he was a central character in Clive’s previous novels but he only appears intermittently in this one, and does little spying or running. He’s on leave from the secret service and in hiding from the IRA, who want to kill him. Other spies frequently refer to him as someone very important, skilful or dangerous (depending on their point of view) but he doesn’t do much to show how he earned such a reputation.

The blurb on the back cover says, in part, ‘With no help from SIS and all his contacts denying they’ve ever heard of him…’ If that was true, it would make the plot more dramatic, however, as it is Ashton’s colleagues do a lot to help and protect him. Good for him, but less exciting for the readers.

There are a lot of different characters to keep track of: mostly British spies but also American and Russian spies, IRA terrorists and the odd journalist. The book switches frequently between their different points of view while following the basic storyline: the IRA is after Ashton because he killed one of their terrorists in a fight. He suspects that one of his fellow spies leaked information about his undercover identity and whereabouts to the IRA and attempts to find out who. Meanwhile, two Russian spies are trying to defect to the West, causing all sorts of problems.

Unlike most authors, Clive has relevant experience for his novels: the biographical note at the front of the book says that he has years of experience in ‘Intelligence and Counter Espionage’. Presumably, the details like Mozart telephones, Codeword lists and bin cards are based on fact, but who knows? There’s a lot of snooping and liasing between the SIS, MI5, Special Branch, 10 Intelligence Company, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government Communications Headquarters. Probably it’s based on reality, but it does get a little confusing at times.

‘You want to tell me what Five was doing with my security file?’ Ashton demanded without any kind of preamble.

The assertion brought Francesca up with a jolt and made her hesitate. Richard Neagle had given her strict instructions to hang up the moment Ashton identified himself. But things were no longer so clear-cut as they had been and she couldn’t bring herself to put the phone down.

‘Say that again, Peter.’

‘You people helped to provide new identities for Harriet and me. I know that to do this you were given access to Codeword material. Now I’d like an explanation. Think you could give me one?’

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