Dissident Reviews #10: Lost Causes by Richard Nichols
A career as a spy is an idea many men entertain at some point in their life. A stack of counterfeit passports. Guns. Hotel bars. Women. Being part of an elite secret unit with a licence to kill is even more appealing.
There is an obvious precursor to this idea in the form of James Bond. But now that 007 is a Girl Boss POC, it is high time for a new International Man of Mystery to stoke our boyhood fantasies.
Enter John Buchan. He is a drunk. A womaniser. A world traveller and thrill chaser. Buchan is a member of “a small, little known department of the government…founded during the last world war out of a recognition that there are some crimes that, for one reason or another, the law cannot touch.”
Recruited when he went by the name Charlie Hook, Buchan’s years as a Whitehall mandarin have left him disillusioned.
In any normal, working environment, being a self-absorbed power-crazed maniac tends to be something of a handicap, but modern-day Whitehall is no ordinary working environment.
Indeed, Buchan feels his country may no longer be worth fighting for, so total is his cynicism. There is a paradoxical sense of both daring and hopelessness in his missions to battle Mexican drug dealers, Irish separatists and other examples of “the planet’s most notorious psychopaths.”
Nichols’ ably weaves flashbacks from Buchan’s youth, or more accurately, previous life, into his narrative to demonstrate how Buchan came to take such a dim view the state of the world, his country above all.
No defeat could ever be more complete, more comprehensive or more shameful. Yet, for the life of him, Buchan couldn’t tell exactly what had gone wrong. Sometimes he wondered if anybody could - the assault had been so subtle, so protracted, and on such a broad, all-encompassing front that it seemed impossible that any one person could see the whole picture. The consequences were easy enough to spot, though: the madness, the ugliness, the lies, the destruction, the distrust, the sheer unnaturalness of it all. They were every bit as bleak and unsettling as Orwell, Huxley and the others had predicted they would be, with a large dose of Kafka thrown in for good measure. But the cause… The cause was another thing altogether.
I greatly enjoyed Lost Causes as a spy thriller. I liked being taken to far-flung, exotic places and seeing the world through the eyes of a man living both outside the law and at the heart of his own government.
Buchan is a roving gun for hire. A modern-day pirate. The kind of spy boys dream of one day becoming.
One critique I would offer is the degree to which the hero’s cynicism—in reality the author’s—features in the story.
“Well, to give you the official definition, they’re warrants or commissions from a national government authorizing a designated agent to ‘search, seize, or destroy specified assets or personnel belonging to a party which has committed some offense under the laws of nations against the assets or citizens of the issuing nation’.”
“That’s quite a mouthful. What’s the unofficial definition?”
“A license to kill,” said the man simply.
I fully subscribe to Nichols’ view that we need a new (in reality, the old) 007. But allow me to pose the question: which political party would the 007 of, say, the Sean Connery era have voted for? It is impossible to say, and in any case does not seem relevant to the character, who transcended such matters.
Today we might guess 007 is a card-carrying Labour supporter. I believe this is due to the wrong turn the inheritors of Fleming’s franchise has taken in recent years.
Nichols might be the man to wrest it back from them. In the pages of Lost Causes, he demonstrates his ability to tell a story which is equally fun, irreverent, intricate and absorbing.
Strictly as a thriller, Lost Causes would be equal in merit to Le Carré's The Perfect Spy. Like the hero of his novel, Nichols possesses the rare combination of talent and sense of adventure. He might be the creator of the hero we are all yearning for. I eagerly await his next novel.
Lost Causes is published by Red-Pilled Fiction Factory and is available for purchase here.
About Dissident Reviews:
In this series, I review—in a spirit of objectivity and constructive criticism—“dissident” works, by which I mean works establishment publishing houses would overlook for ideological reasons. My motivations for doing so are to:
discover works from outside the mainstream, which I consider politicised and uninteresting;
network with like-minded writers;
promote work I consider good and offer what I hope will be useful critiques for that I think could be better; and
promote my own work.
I am an Australian writer living in France. I am in the process of publishing a three-novel series—the first of which is available here—and have had non-fiction published in Quadrant and Quillette magazines and The Australian newspaper.
Authors are welcome to use quotes from these reviews (with attribution). If you would like me to review your book please get in touch via my Twitter page.