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 . . .
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!