#BookReview: Devolution

John Casey
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Michael Dolan is a stoic perfectionist and former special operations pilot working a staff job at the Pentagon when he is approached by the CIA with an improbable request, to help prevent impending terrorist attacks in Europe. As his deep-cover role in OPERATION EXCISE evolves, Dolan finds that of all the demons he must prevail against, the most terrible are from within . . .

My Review

I have been expanding my reading horizons from the literary fiction that I customarily read, which is how I came to read John Casey’s spy thriller DEVOLUTION. Prior to writing this review, I thought I should read up on the conventions of the spy thriller genre. I’m glad that I did because it provided the context I needed to fully appreciate the novel.

One of the prominent features of DEVOLUTION is the inner workings of the espionage game–and I use the word “game” purposely. The stakes are very high–taking out a terrorist cell bent on jihad–yet the egos of the various players can’t help but emerge to impose their own will–not to mention the internecine drama happening in the larger intelligence community. 

The technology of spying plays a role in the novel as well, with most of it focused on the protagonist’s iPhone. I found these details both interesting and believable, albeit a little scary when the thought of how this technology might be used to spy on the rest of us entered my mind. 

Casey uses setting very effectively, with the novel opening in a small, dimly lit office of the CIA, deep in the bowels of Langley. When we think of  “spooks,” that’s where they are, huddled in a dingy, soundproof room looking at “the spectral glow of the monitors” and talking in acronyms. 

This particular unit has failed at their current mission in Europe to take out a terrorist cell and is danger of being closed down. The head of the unit is not about to give up, and she recruits Michael Dolan, a former special operations pilot with a connection to one of the suspected terrorists, Shariff Lefebvre, to leave his staff job at the Pentagon and go to Paris.

Once in Paris, Dolan is to reestablish his friendship with Shariff and report back to his handler at Langley, all the while fighting his own demons from his previous time in Paris and being surveilled himself. 

At key points in the novel, there are shifts in point of view to the terrorists, which serves to intensify the horror of what they have planned and drive the action forward. The plot then takes several unexpected, character-driven turns, which I won’t reveal here.

I would highly recommend DEVOLUTION to readers who enjoy a good spy yarn with a flawed protagonist and intriguing secondary characters. They won’t be disappointed!

74 thoughts on “#BookReview: Devolution

  1. It’s been a very long time since I’ve delved into spy fiction, but you make it tempting again! Casey is very lucky to have you as a fan and reviewer. As I’ve come to know you through your blog, I know that I can absolutely trust your recommendation!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Ooh! Thanks for sharing! I’m currently reading a non-fiction espionage book from the 90’s, and Edward Snowden’s book, so this will fit right into my espionage phase :-p

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You continue to inspire me, Liz, for your capacity to move into new areas of exploration. I haven’t read a spy thriller in years and its seems that I have been missing out on some excellent reads. I appreciate your book reviews because you give me the story as well as the background. Your photos allow me to “see” the author. Thank you for another wonderful discussion – I look forward to ever one of your posts – and come back for a second and third time.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Just found Devolution on Kindle. It is a trilogy series! And it has been nominated for the 2020 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award. And I found out John Casey is a poet, too!! Ah Liz, you have the best introductions.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for your review, Liz. I’m becoming more and more fond of how the use of different points of view can drive a story forward, so it looks as if I should put this novel on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks Liz for the great review! Sounds like a wonderful read. I’m very intrigued by the storyline and it’s always good to know that when you like a story there are two more waiting to be read.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There are many good horror writers to choose from, but I stuck with James Herbert, Dean Koontz. Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. Of course you’ll find your own favourite/s.

        I hope you’ll enjoy the reading experience. Winter is the perfect time to snuggle up with a horror, bwahahaha!

        Good luck getting through your book-stack!

        Enjoy the weekend. Take care,


        Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow! Independent bookstores are growing and thriving here in New England. An author’s paradise. My ‘thing’ is children’s books, and the market and popularity is huge. Thanks so much, John.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You’re welcome Jennie! I miss New England so—grew up in Keene, NH. I will be back there at the end of March to do a photo shoot for my next (non-spy thriller) book, titled Coda. It is a compelling and mindful fusion of poetry and black and white film photography.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. How exciting! Hopefully winter and difficult traveling will gone. I love Keene, especially their pumpkin festival. I love in Groton, MA. Lovely town, very close to the NH border. I’m a longtime preschool teacher and a strong promoter of children’s books and reading aloud. Poetry should be read aloud. Best to you, John.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Liz, good on you for expanding your reading horizons and even doing the research to fully appreciate the genre. I’ve always enjoyed spy novels, and I have no idea of the genre conventions. That must be why I’ve never considered trying to write (or review) one. But I’ll need to learn should I ever have a chance to copyedit this genre!

    Oddly, as the years have gone by, I’ve gravitated more toward spy films and audiobooks than the printed spy novels. I don’t know why, but I seem to better connect with oral and visual versions of this genre. Puzzling.

    Of course, that leads me to wonder: will Devolution be released as an audiobook—or a film?!?

    Thanks for pointing us toward this intriguing possibility.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I haven’t read many spy novels, Liz, but the good ones/current ones do seem to focus on technology. They have to, I think, to be credible. Authors have to be knowledgeable about cutting edge technology to craft a modern-day spy story. It’s impressive. This book sounds like a winner. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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