An Improbable Spy

Fiction - Thriller - Espionage
262 Pages
Reviewed on 06/09/2020
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Author Biography

David Paul Collins was born with a thirst for adventure. As a teenager, he set out to go to sea on his own, working aboard merchant ships sailing under African, Asian and Central American flags and later, on American ships as a member of the National Maritime Union.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite

In An Improbable Spy by David Paul Collins, in November 1979, merchant banker Jack Devlin's world falls apart when the US embassy in Tehran is stormed by radical Muslim terrorists and hostages are taken. He is forced to leave his business and girlfriend, Farideh, and escape from Iran. Now he is given the opportunity to rescue Farideh and her sister Leah. The opportunity comes in the form of a joint mission by the CIA and MI6. In return for their safety, Jack must return to Iran and retrieve a ledger containing all the clients and sources of the biggest and most dangerous arms dealer in the Middle East, Mustafa Khaki. The KGB is also rumored to be aiding the Iranians to prevent a successful US rescue of the hostages. Devlin must also make contact with a KGB double agent to extract intel on the Russians' involvement in the embassy siege. If Devlin is unsuccessful, the secret services will deny all knowledge of the mission; if he is successful there is no guarantee he will not be double-crossed himself.

An Improbable Spy by David Paul Collins is an absolute adrenalin rush. The descriptive accounts of the places and events, especially at the roadside checkpoints, were completely believable. Devlin was a realistic character but an unlikely candidate for the mission. His love for Farideh forced him into a dangerous situation that he was not trained for. Each character was interesting, multi-layered, and introduced gradually so they didn't detract from the story. Khaki and his second in command, Ali, were chilling characters who were capable of the most horrific brutality. I loved the twists and turns in the plot and the obstacles Devlin had to overcome were gripping. The psychological game of cat and mouse between Devlin and Khaki is compelling. You are really kept second-guessing if Jack will ever escape; his mission becomes more dangerous the longer he remains in Iran. The author has obvious personal experience of the Middle East and their culture and I wasn't surprised to learn that he was in Iran at the time of the siege.

Lucinda E Clarke

An Improbable Spy by David Paul Collins is set in London, Egypt, Iran, and Kuwait at the time when a party of Americans in Tehran were taken captive in the longest hostage crisis in history. The hero, Jack Devlin, is a banker with interests in the Middle East. He is on the point of losing his fortune since it was extremely unwise for westerners to enter Iran where Jack’s assets are located. His problems are further complicated by his love for Farideh, the Jewish daughter of Mustafa Khaki. The Iranian arms dealer’s other daughter, Leah, is on dialysis and needs a kidney transplant. In return for her medication and removal from Iran, he promises to reinstate Jack’s money. Enter MI6, introducing spies with improbable names, and then the CIA butts in and Mossad get involved too. They are all after Mustafa Khaki and Jack is the only one who can get close to him. Each of the services is relying on Jack to enter and leave Iran not once but twice. However, one person on his team is not on the same side.

David Paul Collins’ An Improbable Spy is quite a complicated book. It takes a while to get going, as Jack Devlin is recruited and trained in London. Then it speeds up and keeps up the pace moving from Cairo to Kuwait and Iran. The descriptions of life in the Middle Eastern countries are vivid and authentic and I was not surprised to learn the author had spent time there. As a character, Jack bounces off the page, but he is one of many including some interesting and strange members of the British Secret Service. The whole story builds to a rather improbable climax but through it all, I saw a lot of underlying humor as characters popped up unexpectedly in different places. I suspect this will not be the only book starring Jack Devlin as he begins to enjoy his work as a spy.

Darryl Greer

Much has been written about the Iran hostage crisis, a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Iran. After a group of Iranian college students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, who supported the Iranian Revolution, took over the embassy, fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days from 04 November 1979 until 20 January 1981. That is the background for David Paul Collins’ spy thriller, An Improbable Spy. In this story, set in the 1980s, when the students stormed the embassy, Jack Devlin, a merchant banker, narrowly escaped the chaos, leaving behind 80% of his business. He also had to leave behind the love of his life, Farideh. Determined to get her back at almost any cost, Jack accepts a deal with the CIA and Britain’s MI6 to return to Tehran to retrieve the ledger of a major arms trafficker and at the same time rescue Farideh. But spies will be spies and Jack soon finds that there is only one person involved in the saga who he can trust – himself. His quest to carry out his mission takes him to Kuwait, Cairo, London, and eventually to Tehran -- where things don’t go quite as planned.

Great international spy thrillers do not have to be lengthy – An Improbable Spy is only 262 pages. And it is great from start to finish. It is clear from this flawless novel that David Paul Collins knows his stuff. Each scene is so descriptive it is easy to visualize what is going on, indeed where it is going on. Historical, political, geopolitical, and geographical locations are or at least appear to be accurate, perhaps because of the author’s own experiences in the Middle East during the Iranian Islamic Revolution. The plot twists and turns as pages are quickly flipped to see where it is heading next. Through excellent characterization the characters come alive – heroes to be cheered on, villains to be despised. As astonishing as the dénouement is, the author has saved the biggest surprise for his Author’s Note which follows. This taut, tense, page-turning thriller is highly recommended.

Ruffina Oserio

An Improbable Spy by David Paul Collins is a fast-paced, action-packed thriller that explores the theme of espionage in an international setting. It follows the story of Jack Devlin, an American businessman who loses almost all his business and flees Tehran when radical Islamic students storm the US Embassy in 1979. Dozens of Americans are held hostage, but he has a narrow escape, and while he must live with his losses, the greater loss is Farideh, his girlfriend whom he has left behind in Iran. But an opportunity, one fraught with danger, is offered to him by the CIA. Going back to Iran to steal the ledger of one of the most powerful arms dealers in the world, Mustafa Khaki, his girlfriend’s father, is the only opportunity to reconnect with his love.

This is a terrific story that follows an unusual spy not only tasked with stealing a very important ledger but one who equally finds himself entangled in a plot that could sink America. Can he get all the intel required to unravel the deal between Russia and Iran and bring home his girlfriend? That question stays in the reader’s mind. It is a twisty story that features very complex and believable characters. The protagonist is a sophisticated character; he is not trained in the military but must navigate a conflict-prone landscape. I loved the crisp writing and gorgeous descriptions. David Paul Collins writes an international setting that will stay vivid in the minds of readers. The plot is accomplished and while it is hard to predict what can happen next, the reader’s curiosity deepens through every scene. An Improbable Spy is nothing short of a spellbinding, entertaining page-turner. I loved the story as much as the writing.

Rabia Tanveer

An Improbable Spy by David Paul Collins is the story of a man as he tries to get the woman he loves out of danger, but he might have to give more than he can take. Some Americans are being held hostage in Iran and the CIA is looking for someone who will be least likely to get caught in the thick of things. Jack Devlin is the man with enough motive to take the risk and get the job done. Jack’s girlfriend Farideh is stuck there and he will do whatever it takes to get her back in his life. The price of her freedom: get the ledger of a dangerous arms trafficker. The task is big and exceptionally dangerous, but Jack is ready to do it. He will get his Farideh back in his life. Can Jack do it? Does he have what it takes to fight for the woman he loves and make it out alive?

An Improbable Spy by David Paul Collins is an interesting thriller novel with plenty of action and mystery to tie you to the book for hours. I loved the pace of the story and how well the author managed it all. He allowed the characters to grow, develop, and become their own person. It felt like the characters were taking the story wherever they wanted and that felt absolutely right. I enjoyed the slew of characters the author added and how each character proved to be essential to the story. The background stories of most of the characters were amazing. I enjoyed how it allowed me to make a connection with them and feel their struggles. This was a brilliant story, one that gave me everything I expect from an action thriller.