Agency Rules contains all the necessary parts the reader expects from a spy story: undercover agents, assassinations, training of recruits and an intricate plot. In this book we also have some unfamiliar names and places if you do not know Pakistan, the main setting for the plot. However the tale was delivered in such an accessible way that I quickly found that I was intrigued enough to want to read on!
The main protagonist, Kamal Khan, is a questionable hero who “advances” from a basic soldier to top sniper and then to skilled infiltrator of an al-Qeda group. The long trail of events is set in motion by a terrorist assault in Karachi, and the reader is then made privy to the confusion that besets those in authority. I thought that the meeting between the army, the secret service and the politicians, with all the in-fighting and petty rivalries hovering in the background, was well observed by the author. He illustrates well how each faction has its own notions and reasons for wanting to respond or retaliate to the incident. The author is at pains to illustrate how Pakistan and its people can often be wrongly portrayed by those in the Western world, but does not shirk from criticising the inefficiency and confusion that arises out of such political intrigue and pettiness.
The story moves at an amazing pace, just like any good spy thriller writer should, and there is a bewildering succession of names and situations to grip and often confuse the reader. Gripping because Khalid Muhammad’s imagination and writing has you constantly on the edge of your seat to find out what happens next. I am loathe to describe in detail much of the plot since I am of the opinion that this can prove too much of a spoiler for potential readers of the book. Our hero, Kamal Khan, turns out to be not only a skilled engager of covert operations and gung-ho fighter, as we expect, but also a ruthless interrogator of suspects. This encourages one to ponder with suspicion the reality of events that we may regularly read about in the news media.
The confusion that I mentioned arises from the very many names, and the frequent use of a language unfamiliar to many of his readers. Without finding the need for translation, either in the text of the tale or elsewhere (glossary?), the author runs the risk I feel of slowing down the pace of this thrilling page-turner, or even of alienating some potential fans for the future. I am very aware of the translation obstacle having had to deal with it in my own writing. There are also a few editing issues that should be addressed. Notwithstanding this and a bit of polish, however, I can happily compare this first novel to those of Frederick Forsyth (The Afghan, Dogs of War) and Jack Higgins (The Judas Gate), for its verve and ability to capture the imagination.
I look forward to seeing more from this exciting new writer.
Rating: 3stars (WOW Blog)