Porkies is John Henry Bennett’s 2015 sequel to his 2012 Pigs, and this is one of those cases where you really need to read the first volume before diving into book two of the trilogy.
In part, that’s because Porkies begins at the moment when Pigs ended, with the clicking countdown of a dirty bomb timer working its way through a London sewer. After the bomb is defused, Bennett spends considerable time with three alternating storylines focused on his three principal characters. First are the circumstances involving his primary protagonist, Harry Baxter, a middle rank operative for the British intelligence service. In order to keep him away from possible political embarrassment for events that occurred in Pigs, Baxter is assigned to an apparently tedious mole hunt in Islamabad, Pakistan. Likewise, his on again, off again girlfriend Mossad agent Anna Harrison (a.k.a. Anne Hardy) is taken off the frontlines by her superiors for her not following procedures before she’s reassigned to Beirut, Lebanon just before a major terrorist operation is launched there. Along the way, we watch Alain Dubois, operative for France’s DGSE intelligence agency serving in Lebanon, hook up with Anna before the pair of them meet up with Baxter some 200 pages or so into the narrative. In short, it takes Bennett around 200 pages to set up his chessboard, demonstrating battling worldwide Jihad can only be done while operatives simultaneously walk on diplomatic high wires and not ruffle any political sensitivities.
The main trio spend some recuperative time together in Beirut and Damascus after Alain and Anna are wounded in an aborted Hezbollah kidnapping scheme before Harry, against orders, rescues them. Then, Alain and Anna are off to Paris and Harry returns to Islamabad. Throw in the CIA, some pesky Russians, and some relentless Jihadists and we get the brewings of a plot to place bombs in Paris and London for simultaneous devastation.
I’ve read reviews where fellow readers wonder if Bennett is in the tradition of either Fleming or Le Carre. Neither, it seems to me. There’s none of the Flemingesque escapism or fantasy and none of the atmospherics of Le Carre. There’s none of the pumped-up thrill rides of authors like Jack Higgins, Clive Cussler or Eric Van Lustbader. Rather, I think of spy writers like W. Somerset Maugham, especially his 1928 Ashenden: or The British Agent, and some of his literary contemporaries like Graham Greene or Eric Ambler. By this I mean Bennett is following in the footsteps of getting into the bureaucratic weeds of administrative processes and procedures and the day-by-day functions of espionage officers that are often neither dramatic nor exciting. As with Pigs, all the pyrotechnics and violence occur in the final 100 pages of Porkies.
In the end, Bennett’s trilogy, presuming the 2017 Lies, Damn Lies follows the same formula as Pigs and Porkies, is for readers who like their spy stories believable, realistic, down-to-earth, and appearing to be based on actual spycraft of our times. Events are more likely to take place in government offices more so than in enemy bases or fantastic headquarters, the technology is far more low-key than in many other thrillers, and much of the action is simply moving the players from square to square. As I said in my review of Pigs, I feel reading these books is like reading espionage procedurals where we see how everything is done and why.
This review was first posted at BookPleasures.com on Oct. 13, 2017: